This article was co-authored by Kai Zhang, a University of British Columbia law student.
During the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, the world's audience was surprised by the composition of Chinese men's and women's hockey teams. Within both teams the majority of members were recently naturalized Chinese players, originating from Canada, US and other countries.
According to the rules of International Olympics Committee, only citizens of member states can compete on behalf of those states in Olympic events. However, the Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China clearly denies dual citizenship. Its Article 8 stipulates that:
"…a person whose application for naturalisation as a Chinese national has been approved shall not retain foreign nationality."
In contrast, Canada does not require applicants for Canadian citizenship to give up their existing citizenship.
In order to represent China in the Olympics, did dozens of Canadian hockey players give up their Canadian citizenship when they were granted Chinese citizenship?
No Canadian hockey players addressed the issue publicly. Eileen Gu, one of the brightest stars in the Winter Olympics, was asked this question at a press conference after being crowned the Olympics Champion. Gu, who was born and raised in the U.S., and who is an icon of the Beijing Winter Olympics after winning two gold and one silver medals for China, chose not to directly clarify whether she is still a US citizen.
In both the U.S. and Canada, giving up citizenship is a complicated legal process.
According to the Citizenship Act of Canada, voluntarily relinquishing Canadian citizenship is done through an application process with the federal government, subject to approval by the Minister acting for the Crown.
This article is a primer on how Canadian citizenship is gained, lost and resumed.
How to become a Canadian citizen
If you were born in Canada any time after February 14, 1977, you are automatically a Canadian citizen. Citizenship is also automatically conferred if you were born outside of Canada to at least one biological parent who is a Canadian citizen, after February 14, 1977. The date of "February 14, 1997" is significant because on February 15 of that year, the Citizenship Act replaced the 1947 Canadian Citizenship Act. The new Citizenship Act of 1977 updated rules around citizenship, enabling dual citizenship for Canadians.
Further changes were made to the Citizenship Act in 2007, allowing children born outside of Canada and adopted by Canadian parents to inherit Canadian citizenship. In 2009, the "first generation rule" was created, meaning that only the first generation of children born abroad to Canadian citizens would be granted citizenship. If a child is born outside of Canada after 2009, and one parent is a Canadian citizen, they would be entitled to Canadian citizenship. However, if only a grandparent is a Canadian citizen, the child would not be Canadian. The only exceptions to this rule are certain cases where the child is born or adopted outside of Canada, and the parent is employed by the Canadian government.
What if you are not the child of a Canadian? To become a Canadian citizen, you would first need to obtain Permanent Resident status (PR), and then apply for citizenship. There are multiple paths to obtaining PR, which depend on factors such as which province of Canada you are planning to move to, your level of education, your work experience, your language skills, your available funds, and whether you have family in Canada. The requirements for individual adults applying for Canadian citizenship are as follows:
- You have Permanent Resident (PR) status
- You are 18 years of age or older
- You have been physically present in Canada for at least 1095 days in the last five years
- You may need to have filed personal income tax for three of the last five years
- You must know English or French, and may need to provide proof
- You must have evidence that you have knowledge of Canada and that you understand the rights and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship
- If you are 18-54 years of age on the date you sign your application, you must pass a citizenship test
- You cannot have unfulfilled conditions relating to your PR status
- You cannot have been given a removal order (to leave Canada)
- A criminal history or being marked as a security threat to Canada may make you ineligible
Adults are able to apply for citizenship on behalf of their children. In addition, as of 2017, minors no longer need a Canadian parent to qualify for citizenship.
How to lose Canadian citizenship
A person may lose their citizenship if they became a Canadian citizen through false representation or fraud, or knowingly concealing information about their material circumstances. In those circumstances, their citizenship may be revoked.
However, it is also possible for Canadian citizens to lose citizenship by applying to renounce their Canadian citizenship. An important requirement for such an application is that the individual must:
- Already have citizenship in a country aside from Canada, or,
- Be able to become the citizen of another country if they lose Canadian citizenship.
The applicant must also:
- Be a legal adult (18 or older)
- Not live in Canada
- Not be part of organized criminal activity or be a security threat to Canada
- Be able to understand the significance of losing Canadian citizenship if the applicant has a mental disability
- Not be in the process of having their citizenship revoked
Interestingly, a person's renunciation of citizenship may also be stopped if there has been false representation, fraud, or knowing concealment of material circumstances in the process of their gaining citizenship.
Can Canadian citizenship be regained?
Short answer—yes. Both Canadians by birth and immigrants to Canada, can, after losing their citizenship, apply to regain citizenship.
The requirements for resumption, however, are strict. An individual would need to:
- Become a Permanent Resident of Canada again, after having lost citizenship
- Have met all immigration conditions linked to PR status
- Have lived in Canada as a Permanent Resident for at least 365 days during the two-year period prior to applying to regain citizenship
- If required, have correctly filed income tax for the one year before the year during in the application to regain citizenship is made
- Have not been given a removal order (request to leave Canada)
- Provide details of any circumstances or history that may trigger the Prohibitions under the Citizenship Act (i.e. criminal history, having been given a removal order)
- Have not lost citizenship because of revocation by the Canadian government
If a person's citizenship has been revoked by the Canadian government, they will be unable to resume citizenship through application. However, in the 60 days immediately after the day the notice of revocation is sent to a person, they are able to ask the Minister for special relief in light of the circumstances of the case, for example, if there are children who will be directly affected, or if the revocation of this person's citizenship will leave them stateless.
For the young Canadian-born athletes representing China in the recent Winter Olympics, it is not known whether they renounced their Canadian citizenship when becoming Chinese citizens for the purpose of representing China. However, what we do know is that their Canadian citizenship can be regained if they chose to give it up voluntarily, unless the citizenship was revoked by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada.
In conclusion, citizenship status not only affects which country a person can represent in international sporting events, it is also considered by tax authorities regarding the tax residence of a person. Most countries require their tax residents to report global income on their tax returns. People need to decide whether to give up original citizenship if there is a chance to become the citizen of a second country, if dual citizenships are not allowed by either of the two countries. For those who successfully obtain Canadian citizenship, while there are methods to relinquish it, given the complicated process of regaining it and other significant implications, such decisions should not be taken lightly.
Should you have any specific questions about this article or would like to discuss it further, you can contact the author or a member of our Immigration Group.