Canada’s Changed Citizenship Law – An International Comparison

Sandra Elgersma
Legal and Social Affairs Division

(Disponible en français: La loi modifiée du Canada sur la citoyenneté – comparaison internationale)

Bill C-24, the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, received Royal Assent on 19 June 2014, enacting the most comprehensive changes to Canadian citizenship in a generation.

Among other things, the bill tightened eligibility criteria for citizenship by naturalization and expanded the grounds for revoking citizenship (provisions not yet in force).

Tightened eligibility for naturalization

The majority of immigrants to Canada become citizens, leading to one of the highest naturalization rates in the world. Bill C-24 tightens the eligibility criteria for naturalization by:

  • increasing the required number of days of physical presence in Canada prior to applying;
  • eliminating periods of temporary residence from the calculation for physical presence;
  • requiring applicants to meet tax obligations; and
  • requiring that applicants “intend to reside” in Canada.

The “Path to Citizenship” graphic compares these new requirements with the naturalization requirements of four other countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

Two new grounds for revocation

The new grounds for revoking Canadian citizenship introduced by Bill C-24 concern actions taken after citizenship is acquired. First, a Canadian’s citizenship can be revoked if the individual is convicted of certain national security–related offences and receives the specified sentence. Canadian citizenship can also be revoked if the minister has reasonable grounds to believe that a person “served as a member of an armed force of a country or as a member of an organized armed group and that country or group was engaged in an armed conflict with Canada.”

Under the new rules, revocation may not render an individual stateless, meaning that this provision applies primarily to dual citizens. In 2011, 2.9% of the Canadian population (about 944,700 individuals) had multiple citizenships. Of this group, 80% were immigrants, while the rest were native-born.

Citizenship revocation has gained prominence as part of a strategy to deal with foreign fighters and to counter terrorism. Recent media reports suggest that many states are revising or introducing new revocation powers.

In the United Kingdom, the Home Secretary may revoke an individual’s British citizenship if it would be “conducive to the public good,” and did so 27 times between January 2006 and May 2014, according to a U.K. Parliament report published in September.

In the United States, the courts have shown restraint regarding revocation, despite provisions in the legislation that would permit it for actions such as treason and fighting in foreign armies.

Proposed bills in the U.S. more directly related to the current context have so far not made it into law (most recently, for example, the Expatriate Terrorists Act of 2014).

Related Resources

Béchard, Julie, and Sandra Elgersma. Legislative Summary of Bill C-24: An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Publication no. 41-2-C24-E. Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 8 July 2014.

Gower, Melanie. Deprivation of British citizenship and withdrawal of passport facilities. Standard Note SN6820. House of Commons Library, U.K. Parliament, 4 September 2014.