Who is a Foreign National with respect to Canada?

Depending on how Canadian laws define you, there will be certain rights or privileges for you. Otherwise, you may encounter limitations. Foreign nationals usually have the least rights with respect to Canada. Therefore, it is crucial to know who is a foreign national.

Knowing the categories of people with respect to Canada

Canadian laws divide people into three major groups:

  1. Canadian Citizens (defined under sections 3 to 5 of the Citizenship Act) 
    • Citizen by birth because of birth inside Canada (conditions may apply), or
    • Citizen by birth despite birth outside Canada: the person’s whose parents are first-generation Canadian Citizens (conditions may apply), or
    • People who immigrated to Canada and later became Naturalized Citizens.
  2. Permanent Residents of Canada (defined under section 12 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act)
  3. Foreign Nationals (defined under subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act)

Of course, you also need to know; the Indian Act defines another group of people in Canada: registered Indians. A registered Indian has almost the same rights and privileges as a Canadian citizen.

Who is a foreign national?

Under subsection 2(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act of Canada (IRPA), “foreign national means a person who is not a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, and includes a stateless person.”

Examples of foreign nationals

Some examples of foreign nationals include,

  • International students
  • Temporary foreign workers
  • International tourists
  • Foreign business visitors
  • Foreign diplomats
  • People who are in Canada without proper documents (i.e. illegal residents or stateless residents)

Does it matter where I reside

The state of being a Citizen, Permanent Resident, or Foreign National is independent of the location of a person. In other words, a Canadian citizen remains a citizen whether they live inside Canada or outside Canada. Similarly, a permanent resident of Canada is a permanent resident, regardless of their location. However, they could lose their permanent residency because of inadmissibility issues or residency obligations.

Can a citizen or a permanent resident become a foreign national?

A permanent resident who loses their permanent residency becomes a foreign national. However, a citizen who loses their citizenship could become a permanent resident or a foreign national. Of course, this depends on the circumstances that have led to the loss of citizenship.

Can a foreign national become a permanent resident or a citizen?

There are many pathways for foreign nationals to become permanent residents and eventually citizens of Canada. However, those pathways are usually not smooth. Visit the following page for more information:

Nonetheless, sometimes a citizen or permanent resident adopts a child from Canada. Consequently, that child could become a permanent resident or a citizen upon arrival in Canada.

If you wish to visit or move to Canada, please fill out our free assessment form. We will review it for free, but we will contact you only if we find an opportunity for you. Alternatively, you may book a consultation session. Consultation sessions are not free, but you will receive formal advice from a licenced practitioner.

Al Parsai, MA, DTM, RCIC
Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada


This article provides information of a general nature only. Considering the fluid nature of the immigration world, it may no longer be current. Of course, the item does not give legal advice. Therefore, do not rely on it as legal advice or immigration advice. Consequently, no one could hold us accountable for the content of these articles. Of course, if you have specific legal questions, you must consult a lawyer. Alternatively, if you are looking for immigration advice, book an appointment.

The characters and places in the articles:
All the characters and locations in the articles are fictional, unless otherwise clearly stated. Therefore, any resemblance in names, dates, and places is coincidental.

Important Notes:
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Al Parsai

Al Parsai is a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) in Toronto, Canada. He also teaches the official immigration consulting courses at Ashton College in Vancouver, Canada. Al who holds a Masters degree from Yorkville University is a member of ICCRC and CAPIC organizations. Al, the CEO of Parsai Immigration Services, has represented hundreds of applicants from more than 30 countries to the immigration authorities since January 2011.

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