Canada's Immigration Laws Timeline

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Canada's Immigration Laws Timeline

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Act to create a Fund for defraying the expense of enabling Indigent Emigrants to proceed to their place of destination, and of supporting them until they can procure employment

Significant Change

Under this Act, amended regularly thereafter, immigrants were to support their family members, who were also required to be registered on a list. 

Immigration Act

Significant Changes

Established immigration offices. 

Also addressed the safety of immigrants on board ships and established the following categories for those barred entry to Canada : « idiotic, deaf or dumb, blind or infirm », for whom ship captains could be fined. Immigration agents were authorized to send these individuals back to their port of departure. 

Naturalization Act

Significant Change

After living in Canada for three years, an immigrant could submit an application to a court and receive a certificate of naturalization if he or she were deemed to be of good character. When a man was naturalized as a British subject in Canada, his wife and children automatically received the same status. 


Chinese Immigration Act

Imposed a duty of $50 on each member of a Chinese family entering Canada. Only diplomats, government representatives, scientists, students and tourists were exempted from the fee. Also denied entry to Chinese immigrants with leprosy or infectious disease, as well as any Chinese woman known to be a prostitute. 


Immigration Act

Introduced a selective immigration policy, broadening categories of ineligible immigrants, formalizing a deportation process and granting the governement discretionary powers over admission procedures and decisions. 

Fostered policies focused on immigrants’ cultural and ethnic origins rather than their economic potential. But extended eligibility to immigrants with mental illness, epilepsy or physical disability if they belonged to an immigrant family capable of providing sufficient support. 

Immigration Act

Gave Cabinet almost full power to issue orders-in-council to regulate the flow, ethnic origin and occupational qualifications of immigrants. Cabinet could stipulate exclusionary and deportation criteria without interference from the government’s legislative and judicial arms. Now, only « dumb, blind or otherwise physically defective » were allowed if they belonged to an immigrant family capable of providing sufficient support.

Undesirable immigrants now included prostitutes, pimps, vagrants and inmates of jails, hospitals and insane asylums.

The Act introduced the concept of status linked to length of residence (obtained after three years of residence in Canada), which protected immigrants from deportation. 

Women outside Canada who were married to naturalized immigrants were not considered Canadian and were required to meet the legal requirements to be admitted to Canada. 

Naturalization Act

To obtain a certificate of naturalization, residents were now required to live in Canada for five years before submitting an application. Candidates were judged on their moral character and had to have adequate knowledge of English or French. The decision was left to the good will of the governement, which had discretionary powers to determine which permanent residents would benefit. The Act retained the stipulation that married women take their husband’s nationality (and therfore lose their own). 


Establishment of the Department of immigration and colonization
Naturalization Act

Authorized immigrant wifes to request naturalization independently. 

Act to amend the Immigration Act

Expanded the categories of prohibited immigrants and the restricted category of political dissidents. The executive branch could prohibit or limit the number of immigrants belonging to any nationality or race, by reason of any economic, industrial or other condition temporarily existing in Canada. 

Eligible individuals would be able to bring to Canada the following family members: father or grandfather over age 55, spouse, grandmother, and any widowed or unmarried daughter who would have been otherwise excluded due to illiteracy.

Chinese Immigration Act

Barred entry to persons identified as Chinese. Chinese immigrants already in Canada were required to register and were authorized to travel to and from China, but not to bring in family members


Restricted immigration to agriculturalists with financial resources, wifes and children of Canadian residents and British subjects and American citizens with suficient means to provide for their own needs until they found employment (Petryshyn, 1974). 


Immigration Act

Codified existing practices and maintained the discretionary power of the executive branch and government officials with regard to selection, admission and deportation. The federal cabinet was authorized to prohibit immigrants on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, occupation, peculiar customs, inability to adapt to the climate and probable inability to become assimilated.



Implementation of a points based system to equip immigration officials with « objective » assessment criteria (Daniel 2003). 

The sponsored class would include only family members, henceforth called “dependents” (i.e. those exempt from the points system). Another category, called “nominated,” was introduced to designate other family members required to use the points system but benefiting from additional points by virtue of their family ties.

Immigration Act

The Act organized immigration according to annual plans stipulating numbers and distributed among three categories: independent, family class (sponsored/assisted) and humanitarian (refugees).

Permitted the executive branch to determine, through regulatory means, members of the family class who could be sponsored by a permanent resident or a Canadian citizen. Section 4 limited the members of this class to spouses, fiancées, unmarried children under the age of 21, parents and grandparents 60 years or older or under the age of 60 if these persons and their spouses were incapable of gainful employment or if widowed, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, unmarried orphaned grandchildren under 18 years of age, and children under the age of 13 whom the sponsor intended to adopt.

The Act established two classes of refugees, one corresponding to the definition set out in the United Nations Convention, and an expanded class that included individuals who did not fulfill the UN criteria but were experiencing the same level of danger as UN refugees.

Implemented the Fiancée visas 

1991 (May)

Occupational classification is established (list of jobs in demand in the provinces). 

Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA)

Still continues to be the centerpiece of immigration legislation in Canada. Sets out the technical features of the new immigration policy. 

Section 12 of the IRPA lists the members comprising the family class: “A foreign national may be selected as a member of the family class on the basis of their relationship as the spouse, common-law partner, child, parent or other prescribed family member of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.” It is through the IRPA that common-law and conjugal partners, including those in same-sex arrangements, become legally eligible for family reunification.

Budget implementation Act

The amendments to the IRPA gave Citizenship and Immigration Canada discretionary power, as of 2008, to refuse an immigration application even if the applicant fulfills the program criteria (Ligue des droits et libertés, 2008).

Increase in the Minister’s power, enabling him or her to issue instructions on the processing of applications to ensure that it is conducted in a manner that “best support[s] the attainment of the immigration goals established by the Government of Canada.” (IRPA, subsection 87.3(2)).

Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act

A sponsored person is required to wait five years, even if he or she gains citizenship, before sponsoring a spouse. If a couple has no children at the time of the sponsorship application, the sponsored person must live with the sponsor for two years, on penalty of having his or her conditional permanent resident status revoked.

However, if the separation is due to violence or neglect on the part of the sponsor or a member of his or her family, the sponsored person may apply for an exemption from the rule but must prove that the mistreatment occurred and led to the breakdown of the relationship.