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Immigration Issues When Adopting a Child From Abroad

The joy that coincides with the adoption of a child often comes after a lengthy and complicated process. Even under the best of circumstances, the procedures and requirements involved can be overwhelming, and failure to understand and follow this web of rules could keep a hopeful family from being completed.

When Canadians adopt children from abroad, the process is even more fraught with peril, as intercountry adoptions not only involve the inherent complexities of adoption but also immigration and citizenship rules. Children and babies may be small, but their presence in Canada, as for all individuals living here, requires that they be here in accordance with Canadian immigration laws so they get the full benefits of Canadian residency or citizenship.

Canadian parents-to-be who have completed the adoption process or who are in the middle of the adoption process if it is to be completed in Canada have two options for their new child: the immigration process or the citizenship process. Which path is taken depends on certain specific eligibility factors

Immigration Process for Adopted Children

The completion of the process of sponsoring a foreign-born baby for adoption will then necessitate an application to sponsor the child to become a permanent resident of Canada. Under the following situations, the adoptive parents must use the immigration process and are not eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship for their child at the time of adoption:

  • neither parent was a Canadian citizen when the adoption took place or was a Canadian citizen other than through birth in Canada or naturalization;
  • the adoptive parents are permanent residents at the time of adoption.

Parents may be not be eligible to sponsor a child:

  • if they did not meet the requirements of a previous sponsorship agreement;
  • if they defaulted on a court-ordered support order, such as alimony or child support;
  • if they have been convicted of a violent criminal offence—depending on the nature of the offence, when it occurred and whether a record suspension was granted; or
  • if they do not live in Canada now and do not plan to live full-time in Canada when the child becomes a permanent resident.


A medical exam for the adopted child is required as part of the immigration process. The adopted child will not lose their foreign nationality or citizenship once they become a permanent resident of Canada. They will be issued a permanent resident visa before they leave for Canada which will be placed in the adopted person’s home country passport or travel document. A confirmation of permanent residence document is also issued to the adopted person. Finally, they will receive a permanent resident card after arriving in Canada.

The foregoing is far from a comprehensive discussion of the immigration process for adopted children; there are numerous other requirements and steps which you can read about on the CIC’s website here, and discussing your situation with an experienced immigration lawyer before you begin the process is highly advised.

The Citizenship Process for Adopted Children

As of April 17, 2009, children born outside Canada to a Canadian parent are only Canadian at birth if:

  • one parent was born in Canada; or
  • one parent became a Canadian citizen by immigrating to Canada and was later granted citizenship through the regular citizenship grant process (also called naturalization).

These changes impact Canadian parents’ ability to pass on citizenship to children they adopt who are born outside Canada.

Children who were born outside Canada and adopted on or after January 1, 1947, can become citizens without having to immigrate to Canada. However, at least one of the adopting parents must have been born or naturalized in Canada.

Adopted people who become citizens through the ‘direct route’ are limited in their ability to pass citizenship to their own children. Unless the other parent was born or naturalized in Canada:

  • an adopted person’s children born outside Canada will not be Canadian citizens
  • an adopted person cannot apply for a citizenship grant using the direct route for their adopted children

As noted above, adoptive parents can sponsor their child to immigrate to Canada as a permanent resident. Once the child’s permanent residence status is granted, the normal process of applying for citizenship can then be followed:

  • The child’s parents can apply for the child to become a citizen.
  • When the child turns 18, the child can apply on his or her own.

This is called citizenship by naturalization.

People adopted outside Canada who become naturalized citizens can pass citizenship to their children, even if their children are born outside Canada. If they adopt children from outside Canada, those adopted children would be eligible for a grant of citizenship through the direct route.

As with the immigration process for adoptive children, this is but a summary of the rules and procedures involved in obtaining citizenship for children adopted from abroad and consultation with an immigration lawyer is essential in order to fully understand your options and ensure that the process for bringing your new baby to Canada is as smooth as possible.

With more than two decades of experience handling immigration matters, Larry Butkowsky has earned the respect of the Toronto legal community and the gratitude of many satisfied clients. He is committed to protecting his clients’ rights and making sure that the immigration process and transition to Canadian life is a smooth one. If you are looking to adopt a child from abroad, please give Larry a call to discuss your situation.

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