The error was uncovered after CBC News ran a story on the plight of the girl and her B.C. family.
In an email to the CBC, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) said Erica Dipuo Barnes's citizenship was not entered into its global case management system last year due to a technical error. Spokeswoman Nancy Caron said the error has been fixed and Barnes's citizenship papers are now on their way.
However, the government is still not apologizing for a series of miscommunications that caused Barnes, now 19, to be stuck in South Africa for five years.
Barnes was orphaned in South Africa at the age of seven after her father was killed in a robbery. She was adopted by family friends, Canadian Vince Barnes and his British wife, Ann.
The couple brought Barnes to Canada to live in Surrey, B.C., and applied to have her granted permanent residency status. When she was 13, she wanted to visit her grandmother back in South Africa.
Her adoptive mother, Ann Barnes, said she called Canada Immigration to see if her daughter could travel and was told it wouldn't be a problem.
CIC says Barnes shouldn't have left
But when Barnes's permanent residency card came through while she was away, her citizenship was denied because she wasn't in the country.
In its email, CIC explained that Barnes had applied for permanent residency on compassionate and humanitarian grounds from within Canada because "it would cause the applicant unusual or disproportionate hardship to apply for permanent residence from outside Canada."
When Barnes returned to South Africa, the CIC's Caron said she no longer met the criteria and that's why in August 2008 her application was refused.
For five years, Barnes was stuck in South Africa, couch surfing with family and friends, at times going hungry and on the street.
But two years ago, Barnes's adoptive mother called the Canadian Embassy and spoke to an official who informed her that being adopted by a Canadian actually entitled her daughter to citizenship.
The couple applied immediately and last August, Barnes got a one-time visa and was on the next flight back to Canada.
Barnes's adoptive parents also received a letter from the Canadian High Commission in South Africa saying their daughter had been granted Canadian citizenship.
But a year later the family, having received no papers from the government, were again left wondering. When CBC interviewed Erica for this story, she broke down in tears over the the uncertainty of her situation.
However, following our story, CIC discovered a technical error had caused the approval to be lost for a year. Barnes's papers are now on their way and the family is breathing a sigh of relief.