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Immigrating to Canada – The Family Sponsorship Category

The Canadian Parliament In Ottawa
The Canadian Parliament In Ottawa

Welcome to the “How to immigrate to Canada” series, ten articles covering the basics—immigration categories, rights and duties as a permanent resident, first steps as a newcomer and more.

Browse these articles for more info on immigrating to Canada.

(Last updated Nov. 2020)

Canada is committed to reunite families. However, as I wrote in Two Immigration Myths, your Canadian or permanent residence spouse, partner or lover isn’t an automatic ticket to the right to live and work in Canada.

It’s not that easy. It’s never that easy. There’s a whole application process to tackle first.

The good news is, you may be eligible to apply for permanent residence in Canada under the family sponsorship category. I’m going to focus on spouse or partner sponsorship, but other relatives may also be eligible.

Who is eligible to sponsor?

  • The sponsor must be a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident in Canada, and be at least 18 years old.
  • The sponsor must agree to provide financial support for the applicant. As a result, you may not be eligible to sponsor if you receive government financial assistance for reasons other than a disability, declared bankruptcy and have not been released from it yet, etc.

In most cases, there isn’t an income requirement to sponsor your spouse or partner or dependent child. 

Who can be sponsored?

There are three categories:

  • Spouse: you are legally married to your sponsor. Note that same-sex couples are recognized as long as the marriage is legal according to both the law of the place where the marriage occurred and under Canadian law.
  • Common-law partner: you have been living together in a conjugal relationship for at least one year in a continuous 12-month period that was not interrupted.
  • Conjugal partner: for partners (opposite sex or same sex) who, in exceptional circumstances, cannot live together nor can get legally married. For example, you are in a same-sex relationship and same-sex marriage is not permitted where you live. Or if you were refused long-term stays in each other’s countries.

How does it work?

This is not a point-based system like under the skilled worker category. The goal is to convince the Government of Canada that your relationship with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident is genuine.

Sounds easy? Not so fast!

Imagine that, by default, immigration officers suspect you to be in a relationship with a Canadian only to be able to immigrate to Canada. Now, you have to prove them wrong. Which means displaying your private life… at length.

First, you have to decide in which category to apply—spouse, common-law partners, or conjugal partners. Each category is subjected to the same scrutiny but conjugal partners need to work extra hard to explain why they’re not married or living together.

Then, you have to decide whether you are applying from within Canada, or from outside Canada. If you are already in Canada (on a tourist, a student, a work visa, or even if you lost your legal status), you may apply from within or from outside Canada.

Both options have pros and cons:

  • Applying from within Canada: you will remain in Canada for the length of the process and may be eligible for a work or study visa. On the other side, if you leave Canada during the immigration process, you may not be able to enter the country again. Besides, the process can be longer since most of the applications are processed in Buffalo (NY), a very busy office. Finally, if your application is turned down, you cannot appeal the decision.
  • Applying from outside Canada: you may visit Canada while your application is being processed (usually in your country’s Canadian embassy), as long as you are accepted, but you will not be able to work. If your application is turned down, you may appeal the decision. It’s supposed to be faster.

How to apply

This is an overview of the sponsorship application process.

Check your eligibility and get your checklist, forms and instructions.

Fill out the forms and gather all supporting documents. Don’t forget to add a ton of evidence that the relationship. Proof can include:

  • Marriage certificate (if applicable)
  • Proof of cohabitation (joint bank accounts, joint lease receipts, bills and mails received at the same address, joint purchases…)
  • Pictures (marriage pictures, pictures in a relaxed setting or for special occasions, pictures taken months apart…)
  • Letters of family and friends acknowledging the relationship
  • Travel documentation (boarding passes, hotel bookings, passport stamps…) showing travel together
  • Proof of contact such as letters, emails, social media messages

For a complete overview, check out the Assessing the relationship between spouses or common-law partners, which is the policy, procedures and guidance used by IRCC staff. 

Don’t hesitate to add details or explanation on a separate sheet of paper if needed.

Once your application is complete, take the medical exam. The appointment must be made with a Designated Medical Practitioner (list here). You won’t get the results of the medical exam as they will be forwarded directly to the visa office. However, you will get a call if there is a problem.

Then, you must pay the fees online and include a copy of the receipt with your application:

  • Sponsorship fee ($75)
  • Principal applicant processing fee ($475)
  • Right of permanent residence fee ($500)
  • Biometrics ($85)

And that’s it! Just mail your application.

What happens next

  • First, the case processing centre will assess the sponsor eligibility. This is usually pretty quick and straightforward.
  • Then, the spouse or partner’s application will be assessed. This is usually the longest step, because that’s when the genuineness of the relationship is studied.
  • Is there is any doubt, the applicant will need to go for an interview with a Government of Canada agent. Questions will be about the relationship with the sponsor, reasons for emigrating, etc.
  • Finally, there is a security check, and the medical results will be reviewed.
  • Permanent resident is granted.

The most common reason to refuse a sponsorship application is the belief the relationship is not genuine. So be prepared and provide as many proofs of your relationship as you can.

Sponsoring someone is a serious responsibility and the process is quite draining for both the applicant and the sponsor. My own piece of advice—if your relationship is new, or if you don’t really know each other, think about it twice. Marriage fraud does exist and it’s hard to be taken seriously if you met online and never had a chance to see each other in person.

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