Loss of Canadian citizenship and British subject status, and acquisition and restoration of Canadian citizenship

This section contains policy, procedures and guidance used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada staff. It is posted on the Department’s website as a courtesy to stakeholders.

It is possible for persons to have lost British subject or Canadian citizenship status in the past without their knowledge. As a result, persons who have lost British subject or Canadian citizenship status at some point in their lives may be in Canada without Canadian citizenship status, in some cases, without their knowledge.

Many persons who had lost British subject or Canadian citizenship status under former legislation have now had Canadian citizenship restored or have acquired it for the first time under either the 2009 or the 2015 legislative amendments to the Citizenship Act.

This section is about

  • the non-acquisition and loss of British subject status under the 1868 and 1915 Naturalization Acts;
  • the non-acquisition and loss of Canadian citizenship under the 1947 Canadian Citizenship Act;
  • the loss of Canadian citizenship under the 1977 Citizenship Act;
  • the acquisition and restoration of Canadian citizenship under the 2009 legislative amendments [An Act to amend the Citizenship Act (Bill C-37)];
  • the acquisition of Canadian citizenship under the 2015 legislative amendments [the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24)];
  • how to assess loss of British subject or Canadian citizenship status;
  • the loss of British subject status before 1947 for certain women; and
  • resuming Canadian citizenship for women who lost British subject status upon or during marriage.

Non-acquisition and loss of British subject status under the 1868 Naturalization Act and the 1915 Naturalization Act

In order to acquire Canadian citizenship with the coming into force of the Canadian Citizenship Act on January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), a person had to be a British subject on that date. The Naturalization Act (Local Act) and Naturalization Act (Imperial Act), which came into force on May 22, 1868, and January 1, 1915, respectively, set out who was a British subject. The Local Act and the Imperial Act also contained several provisions for automatic loss of British subject status. For example, loss could occur through naturalization outside Canada for a woman upon or during marriage or as a minor when her parent lost their British subject status. Persons who had not acquired or had lost British subject status under either the Local Act or the Imperial Act therefore did not acquire Canadian citizenship on January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador).

For additional information on the loss of British subject status before January 1, 1947, for women, refer to the Loss of British subject status upon or during marriage before 1947 for certain women section.

Non-acquisition and loss of Canadian citizenship

Under the 1947 Act

When the first Canadian Citizenship Act was enacted on January 1, 1947, in order to be considered Canadian citizens on that date, persons born before that date had to be British subjects. For example, persons born or naturalized in Canada who had lost their British subject status did not acquire Canadian citizenship on January 1, 1947. Before January 1, 1947, a British father born or naturalized in Canada could pass on his British subject status to his child born abroad only if the child was born in wedlock. This means that if the child was born out of wedlock in a non-Commonwealth country, the child could not acquire British subject status from the British father and therefore could not become a citizen on January 1, 1947. A British mother could never pass on her British subject status to her children born abroad. Another example is person who did not meet the 5 years of residence to become a Canadian citizen on January 1, 1947.

The Canadian Citizenship Act, which was in force from January 1, 1947, until February 14, 1977, contained several provisions for automatic loss of Canadian citizenship. For example, loss could occur through naturalization outside Canada, naturalization of a parent outside Canada, lengthy absences from Canada, making a declaration renouncing Canadian citizenship, or failing to apply to retain Canadian citizenship.

Under the 1977 Act

From February 15, 1977, until April 16, 2009, the Citizenship Act contained a provision (section 8) which resulted in the automatic loss of Canadian citizenship by certain persons if they did not take steps to retain their citizenship by their 28th birthday. Section 8 required that Canadian citizens born outside Canada on or after February 15, 1977, take certain steps to retain their Canadian citizenship before the age of 28 if they had acquired Canadian citizen by virtue of being born to a Canadian parent who was also born outside Canada to a Canadian parent [and therefore described in paragraph 3(1)(b) or 3(1)(e)]. Failure to retain Canadian citizenship resulted in the loss of Canadian citizenship on their 28th birthday. Legislative amendments to the Citizenship Act that came into effect in 2009 repealed this provision, so that persons who turned 28 on or after April 17, 2009, remained Canadian citizens and were not required to take steps to retain citizenship. However, the amendment did not have the effect of restoring citizenship to persons who had already lost their Canadian citizenship under section 8 before it was repealed. If these persons wish to reacquire citizenship, they must obtain permanent resident status and subsequently apply to resume citizenship under subsection 11(1) of the Citizenship Act.

To learn more about the legislative amendments of 2009, refer to the citizenship rules.

Acquisition and restoration of Canadian citizenship under the 2009 legislative amendments (Bill C-37)

On April 17, 2009, An Act to Amend the Citizenship Act (Bill C-37) amended the 1977 Citizenship Act to restore Canadian citizenship to many persons who lost it under the 1947 Canadian Citizenship Act and to give it, for the first time, to many persons born to Canadian parents outside Canada in the first generation. Those who became Canadian citizens under Bill C-37 are

  • persons born or naturalized in Canada on or after January 1, 1947 (on or after April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), who subsequently lost their Canadian citizenship and were born in the first generation; and
  • persons born outside Canada to a Canadian parent on or after January 1, 1947 (on or after April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), who lost or never had citizenship due to former citizenship provisions and were born in the first generation.

Persons born before January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), who did not become Canadian citizens on January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), due to the loss of their British subject status did not acquire Canadian citizenship under the 2009 legislative amendments, nor did their children.

To learn more about the 2009 legislative amendments, the first-generation limit to citizenship by descent and the exceptions to this limit, refer to the citizenship rules and to the section on the acquisition of citizenship.

Acquisition of Canadian citizenship under the 2015 legislative amendments (Bill C-24)

On June 11, 2015, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24) amended the 1977 Citizenship Act to give Canadian citizenship, for the first time, to

  • persons who were born or naturalized in Canada before January 1, 1947 (or born or naturalized in Newfoundland and Labrador before April 1, 1949), ceased to be British subjects prior to those dates and did not become citizens on January 1, 1947 (on or before April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador);
  • persons who were British subjects neither born nor naturalized in Canada (or neither born nor naturalized in Newfoundland and Labrador), were ordinarily resident in Canada on January 1, 1947 (on April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), and did not become citizens on January 1, 1947 (on or before April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador);
  • persons born outside Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador before January 1, 1947 (before April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), to a parent who became a citizen on June 11, 2015, retroactively to January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949), and the person did not become a citizen on January 1, 1947 (on or before April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador);
  • persons born outside Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador before January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), to a parent who became a citizen on January 1, 1947 (on April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), and the person did not become a citizen on January 1, 1947 (on or before April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador).

To learn more about the 2015 legislative amendments, the first-generation limit to citizenship by descent and the exceptions to this limit, refer to the citizenship rules and to the section on the acquisition of citizenship.

How to asses loss of British subject or Canadian citizenship status

Review all proof applications for loss

Every application for a citizenship certificate (proof of citizenship) is reviewed to ensure a person applying for a certificate is a Canadian citizen.

Although the 2009 and 2015 legislative amendments to the 1977 Citizenship Act restored Canadian citizenship to many persons who previously lost it and gave Canadian citizenship for the first time to persons who were never Canadian citizens (including those who lost their British subject status), it is still necessary to confirm previous loss of British subject or Canadian citizenship status in order to determine if that person’s status was effectively restored or acquired and, if so, to determine under which section of the Act the applicant is a citizen.

Onus on the applicant

If information is needed from another country regarding a person’s foreign citizenship or status in that country in order for the CIC official to determine Canadian citizenship status under the Citizenship Act, it is the applicant’s responsibility to obtain that information from the authorities of the country.

Loss of Canadian citizenship as a minor

A person may not be aware of actions taken by their parent while that person was a minor child that would have affected that person’s Canadian citizenship. For example, a person’s parent could have, in the past, acquired another nationality, thereby possibly resulting in the loss of Canadian citizenship of that person as a minor child under former legislation. If the parent whose status is being questioned can provide a statement concerning their non-acquisition of another nationality, this should generally be accepted. However, if there is doubt as to the veracity of this statement, the person will be asked to provide a letter from the appropriate authorities. For example, a permanent resident card for the United States (U.S.) is not always acceptable evidence that the person in question did not naturalize as a U.S. citizen.

When both parents of an applicant are naturalized citizens of the U.S., the date on which U.S. citizenship was acquired and the manner in which the applicant originally acquired U.S. citizenship should be noted. Under U.S. law, if both parents are simultaneously naturalized, their minor children may have automatically become U.S. citizens.

It is necessary for the applicant to confirm with American authorities (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) that their parents’ naturalization did not entitle their children to U.S. citizenship.

The children may not have proof that they are U.S. citizens because certificates of proof of citizenship are not issued automatically. They may have letters from the United States authorities confirming that they are permanent residents of the U.S. when, in fact, they are U.S. citizens.

Note: The 2009 legislative amendments to the 1977 Citizenship Act restored Canadian citizenship to persons who lost Canadian citizenship as minors only if they were born in Canada, naturalized in Canada or born outside Canada in the first generation to a Canadian parent. Those persons born outside Canada in the second and subsequent generations who lost Canadian citizenship as minors were not restored Canadian citizenship under the legislative amendments unless one of the exceptions to the first-generation limit to citizenship by descent applied.

Loss of British subject status as a minor

A person may not be aware of actions taken by their parent while that person was a minor child which would have affected that person’s British subject status. For example, a person’s parent could have, in the past, acquired another nationality, thereby possibly resulting in the loss of British subject status of that person as a minor child under former legislation. If the parent whose status is being questioned can provide a statement concerning their non acquisition of another nationality before 1947, this should generally be accepted. However, if there is doubt as to the veracity of this statement, the person should be asked to obtain a letter from the appropriate authorities.

The 2015 legislative amendments to the 1977 Citizenship Act gave Canadian citizenship to persons who lost their British subject status as minors prior to January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), if they were born or naturalized in Canada or if they were born outside Canada in the first generation to any parent who was born, naturalized or a British subject ordinarily resident in Canada on January 1, 1947 (or on or before April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador).

To learn more about the 2015 legislative amendments, the first-generation limit to citizenship by descent and the exceptions to this limit, refer to the citizenship rules and to the section on the acquisition of citizenship.

Foreign citizenship acquired through involuntary or voluntary action

Some applicants claim that they acquired a foreign nationality and, in some instances, without taking any formal action, such as by a derivation claim or by automatically acquiring another nationality upon marriage.

Applicants who claim they have acquired citizenship of another country must be asked to provide a document or letter confirming the section of the law under which the nationality was obtained.

Acceptable evidence of foreign citizenship

The applicant should submit either a letter from foreign authorities or a certificate of naturalization which indicates when and how foreign citizenship was acquired.

If the applicant has acquired a foreign nationality, a passport is not acceptable as it does not show when and how foreign citizenship was acquired.

When a decision has been made

When loss is determined

Before rendering a decision to refuse the issuance of a citizenship certificate (proof of citizenship) on the basis that the applicant is not a citizen, the officer must ensure all documentary evidence and facts are complete. If a citizenship officer requires further information or documents, the officer should contact the client.

Where the citizenship officer determines that the client was a British subject or a Canadian citizen but had lost that status and was not made a Canadian citizen under the 2009 and 2015 legislative amendments, the officer will send a refusal letter to the client. The letter will confirm how Canadian citizenship was originally acquired, outline how the loss of Canadian citizenship occurred and explain the requirements to resume or obtain Canadian citizenship.

Where the citizenship officer determines that the client was never a citizen and did not become a citizen under the 2009 and 2015 legislative amendments, the client will be provided with a refusal letter stating that they were never a Canadian citizen. The letter will also explain the requirements to obtain Canadian citizenship.

Note: When an applicant submits a citizenship application and it is determined that the person (or their parent) is not entitled to a citizenship certificate, the Case Processing Centre in Sydney will refer the file to the Case Management Branch for them to send the applicant or parent a procedural fairness letter advising them of CIC’s intention to recall their citizenship certificate. If submissions are received from the applicant, they will be taken into consideration in the Registrar’s final decision on whether the person concerned is entitled to a citizenship certificate and whether it is therefore necessary to recall and cancel the certificate. The applicant will then receive a final decision advising them of whether their certificate is being recalled and cancelled. The Case Management Branch will finalize the file, which includes advising the client of the result of the application, if required. For more information, see Recall and cancellation of citizenship certificates.

Inform the Passport Program

Where an applicant is determined to not be a citizen and a citizenship certificate was issued to the applicant in the past, the Passport Program will be copied on the decision refusing the issuance of a citizenship certificate on the basis that the person concerned is not a Canadian citizen.

Updating the Global Case Management System (GCMS)

Where an applicant is determined to not be a citizen and the citizenship certificate was recalled, the officer will query GCMS to see if the applicant has a record and update GCMS.

When the applicant is determined to be a citizen

When a citizenship officer determines that the client is a Canadian citizen, a citizenship certificate will be issued to the applicant.

Loss of British subject status upon or during marriage before 1947 for certain women

In order to acquire Canadian citizenship when the Canadian Citizenship Act came into force on January 1, 1947 (or April 1, 1949, in the case of Newfoundland and Labrador), a person had to be a British subject on that date. This is significant for certain women who lost their British subject status before those dates as a result of their marriage or during the marriage, and who otherwise would have acquired Canadian citizenship.

Under the 2015 legislative amendments, most of these woman acquired citizenship.

Note: Before January 1, 1947, a married woman was not allowed to divest herself of her British subject status.

Status of women from May 22, 1868, to January 14, 1932

From May 22, 1868, to January 14, 1932, a woman's status was always automatically the same as her husband's status.

The rule was the following: the wife of a British subject shall be deemed to be a British subject, and the wife of an alien shall be deemed to be an alien.

Status of women from January 15, 1932, to December 31, 1946

On January 15, 1932, the Naturalization Act was amended to deal with statelessness. From that date, British women retained their British subject status unless they acquired their husband's nationality by marriage.

From January 15, 1932, until December 31, 1946, a woman's status was governed as follows:

At time of marriage

  • If the husband was a British subject, the wife automatically became a British subject on marriage.
  • If the husband was an alien, the wife only ceased to be a British subject if she automatically acquired her husband's alien nationality.

During the marriage

  • If the husband was naturalized as a British subject, the wife must apply to become a British subject and obtain a Series H certificate.
  • If the husband was naturalized in a foreign country, the wife's status changed only if she was automatically included in her husband's alien naturalization. However, she could apply to retain British subject status and be issued a Series I certificate.

Between January 15, 1932, and December 31, 1946, women lost their British subject status if they married nationals of the following countries or if their husband acquired the nationality of one of the following countries after the marriage (note specific periods for some countries during which loss would have occurred):

List of nationalities that resulted in the loss of British subject status

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • China (loss occurred if marriage took place on or after February 26, 1939)
  • Czechoslovakia
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Estonia (loss occurred up to and including September 6, 1940)
  • Finland
  • France (loss occurred if marriage took place on or after October 20, 1945)
  • Germany
  • Greece (loss occurred only if marriage took place in the Greek Orthodox Church)
  • Honduras (loss did not occur if marriage took place on or after April 14, 1936)
  • Hungary (women of Jewish origin did not cease to be British)
  • Italy
  • Latvia (loss occurred up to and including September 6, 1940)
  • Lebanon
  • Lithuania (loss occurred up to and including September 6, 1940)
  • Norway
  • Peru
  • Poland
  • Portugal (loss did not occur if marriage took place outside Portugal and was not registered in Portugal)
  • Romania
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Syria
  • The Netherlands
  • Turkey (including Turkish Armenians)
  • Yugoslavia (loss did not occur if marriage took place on or after April 6, 1941)

To learn more about the acquisition of citizenship under the 2015 legislative amendments, refer to the citizenship rules and to the section on the acquisition of citizenship.

Automatic acquisition of Canadian citizenship for women who lost British subject status upon or during marriage

Certain women who lost their British subject status upon or during marriage and who did not become Canadian citizens under the 2015 legislative amendments may apply for an automatic acquisition of Canadian citizenship under subsection 11(2) of the Act. See Automatic acquisition of citizenship under subsection 11(2).

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