As immigration lawyers, we are committed to reuniting families. We routinely assist with family reunification applications, and we specialize in handling rejections and appeals. We know that a carefully prepared application maximizes the chances of approval and reduces processing times. Let’s work together so you can be together sooner.
Family Reunification Immigration Services
Family reunification is central to Canada's immigration policy and is a stated objective of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) offers a number of ways for you to reunite with your immediate family, including sponsorship-class applications. Some of these options are also open to reuniting extended family.
To effect a successful family reunification, it is critical to provide the immigration officers with the right content. Our immigration lawyers ensure your applications, forms, and supporting documents tell the right story about your family and help you avoid lengthy delays and rejections due to incomplete documents or missing information.
Let’s work together so you can be together sooner. Book a consultation with one of our immigration lawyers today.
How does sponsorship work?
Immigration sponsorship is a two-step process. During stage 1, IRCC assesses the sponsor’s eligibility, with an acknowledgment of completion letter generally being issued upon completion of stage 1. Stage 2 considers the actual application for permanent residence. Even though stage 1 and stage 2 assessments are focused on different documents, one complete application package is submitted.
As discussed below, the parties may request that Humanitarian and Compassionate considerations be applied at both stages.
You can sponsor your spouse, partner or dependent child if you are:
- A Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada
- Over 18 years of age
- Able to prove that you’re not receiving social assistance for reasons other than a disability
- Able to provide for the basic needs of any persons you want to sponsor (more on this later)
Spousal relationships for the purpose of sponsorship include a married spouse, a common-law partner, or a conjugal partner. To sponsor a spouse, you must prepare and submit documentation proving a “bona fide relationship” with your foreign spouse. A “bonafide relationship” means that you and your spouse have a “genuine” relationship, and have not entered into a relationship for the purpose of acquiring a benefit under Canadian immigration law. Our immigration law firm has successfully assisted hundreds of families obtain Canadian permanent residency through the spousal sponsorship application.
It is important to note that a Canadian permanent resident or a naturalized Canadian citizen who has previously been sponsored as a spouse, common-law or conjugal partner may not sponsor a new spouse or partner for a five-year period after becoming a permanent resident.
To qualify as a spouse, a foreign national must be at least 18 years of age, legally married to the sponsor, and not otherwise married or in a conjugal relationship with someone else. A marriage that takes place outside Canada must be legal in the country where it took place and must also conform to Canadian law.
In the context of same-sex marriages, the marriage must be legally recognized both in the country where it took place and under Canadian law. Applicants must be able to provide a marriage certificate.
Presently, there is no category for fiancé(e)s. If an applicant for permanent residence is engaged to be married, they must wait until after the marriage to apply as a spouse, or they may apply as a common-law partner if the couple has lived together continuously for at least 12 months.
A common-law partner is an individual who is cohabiting with the sponsor in a conjugal relationship, having so cohabited for a period of at least one year. The common-law partner must have been separated from any prior spouse or common-law partner for at least one year and must be able to prove this. While a formal divorce or legal separation paperwork is preferred, it is not a legal requirement.
In proving the genuineness of the relationship, it is generally advisable to present the Canadian immigration authorities with the following documents:
- joint bank accounts or credit cards;
- joint ownership of a home;
- joint residential leases;
- joint rental receipts;
- joint utilities (electricity, gas, and telephone);
- joint management of household expenses;
- proof of joint purchases, especially for household items; and
- correspondence addressed to either person or both people at the same address.
It is also advisable to provide declarations from the applicant and sponsor spouse, as well as supporting letters or declarations from family and friends.
Ultimately, the specific supporting package will depend on the case. Our immigration law firm will help you determine what specific evidence should be provided and highlighted in your application.
There are special considerations to take into account when choosing between an inland or outland sponsorship application. Inland spousal sponsorship applications generally have shorter processing times and can be submitted when the foreign spouse is physically located in Canada.
Inland is only available to spouses and common-law partners who are residing together in Canada. For an inland application, the foreign spouse is eligible for a work permit upon their spouse being approved as a sponsor (stage 1) - which typically takes between three and five months.
While Canadian immigration law stipulates that the sponsored individual must have valid status in Canada, it is possible for some individuals who are in Canada illegally (such as failed refugee claimants or visitors who overstayed their visa).
Outland spousal sponsorship applications can be submitted when the foreign spouse is not physically located in Canada. Subject to their visa restrictions, under an outland sponsorship, the foreign spouse can travel between their home country and Canada without restrictions.
While this is rarely a key consideration, it is also important to note that there is no right of appeal to the Immigration Appeal Division (more info) for inside Canada sponsorships, this means that if the application is refused, the only remedy is a judicial review or submitting a new application.
Our immigration lawyers can help you closely consider the two processes and determine which process is best suited for your family.
Conjugal partners refer to partners who are not legally married and who do not live together. The conjugal partner sponsorship category was created for those who are unable to legally marry and have not been able to live together continuously for one year, usually as a result of legal, social, or religious barriers. These barriers could include the following, for example:
- one’s marital status (i.e. one partner is married to someone else and is unable to divorce due to the laws in the legal jurisdiction governing marriage);
- one’s sexual orientation (i.e same-sex relationships or marriage are not permitted in the country of the applicant); and
- an immigration barrier, such as where the applicant and/or sponsor were denied long-term stays in each other’s country.
The conjugal partner category applies only when the common-law partnership is not possible as a result of particular circumstances.
Canadian immigration law generally provides that the sponsored spouse should reside in Canada. However, there is no definite rule as to how many days or what percentage of the time a citizen is required to be in Canada. Courts and tribunals have generally taken a flexible approach with the interpretation of residence. However, Canadian permanent residents residing outside of Canada cannot sponsor their spouses. There is an exception for Canadian citizens residing outside Canada if they satisfy immigration officials that they will resume residence in Canada when the sponsored person becomes a permanent resident. Proving intent to resume residence in Canada can be difficult - our firm can help you prepare the supporting materials necessary to prove such intent.
The obligations of the sponsor are twofold a) the sponsor agrees to ensure that family members receive the support they need to establish themselves in Canada and b) the sponsor agrees to repay the Canadian government any social assistance payments made to the sponsored family member or members. Once the undertaking is in force, it cannot be revoked by the sponsor for any reason, including relationship breakdown or abuse, a position that withstood legal challenges. For the spousal application class, the current length of the undertaking is three years.
An applicant or sponsor may be able to seek an exemption from the legal requirements discussed above based on humanitarian and compassionate considerations. For example, if a sponsor is deemed eligible, the sponsor can request the officer to consider humanitarian and compassionate considerations in order to overcome the ineligibility.
Humanitarian and compassionate considerations may also be relied upon during stage 2 including overcoming the ineligibility or inadmissibility of the principal applicant.
Canadian citizens and permanent residents can also sponsor their dependent children and/or an adopted child to reunite with them permanently in Canada. The child, whether biological, step or adoptive, would need to meet the definition of ‘dependent’ and the parent would need to meet specified criteria to be eligible to sponsor in the first place.
To qualify as a sponsor, a parent must be at least 18 years old and have status as either a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.
A “dependent child” is either an individual who is:
- under 22 years of age and not a spouse or common-law partner; or
- 22 years of age or older, and has depended substantially on the financial support of the parent since before the age of 22 and is unable to support themselves financially due to a physical or mental condition.
The age of the child is “locked-in” on the day that the case processing centre receives the application, and remains “frozen in time” for the full duration of the time that it takes to process the sponsorship and applications for permanent residence.
For a dependent child who is younger than 22 years of age at the time of landing, the sponsor parent’s sponsorship duties last for a period of 10 years or until the child turns 25, whichever comes first. For a dependent child who is older than 22 at the time of landing, the sponsor parent’s sponsorship duties are for three years.
Canadian immigration law provides for the adoption abroad of children under 18 years of age and of those 18 years of age or older (if they also meet the above definition of a dependent child). In all cases of adoption, the genuine and informed consent of both biological parents must be provided. In the event that only one parent is able to provide consent to an adoption, visa officers must be satisfied that the second parent is not alive, or has no legal rights with respect to the child.
If adopting a child over the age of 18, the adoption must be in the best interests of the child. If the foreign adoption is not in the best interests of the child, the child will not be considered a member of the family class.
Siblings (including half and step-siblings, nephews, nieces, and grandchildren) may also be admitted as sponsored relatives if they are (1) orphaned; (2) under the age of 18; and (3) and are not a spouse or common-law partner.
Generally, the sponsorship for orphaned relatives who are under 18 years of age, follows the same procedures as those for adopted children under 18 years of age. A visa officer must obtain the written consent of the appropriate authorities in the child’s country of residence, before the child may be removed from that country. Written consent of any legal guardians must also be obtained.
Canada also allows for the sponsorship of another relative in certain situations. A Canadian citizen or permanent resident may sponsor one relative of any age if:
- they do not have a spouse, common-law partner, conjugal partner or one of the following living relatives they could sponsor:
- son or daughter
- brother or sister
- uncle, aunt, nephew or niece
- they do not have a spouse, common-law partner, conjugal partner or any of the above-named relatives who are a:
- Canadian citizen
- permanent resident
- registered Indian under the Indian Act
If you are sponsored under ‘relative status’, is eligible to include all additional family members on their application.
In essence, this program codifies humanitarian and compassionate factors into the Act.
When a Canadian citizen or permanent resident wishes to be reunited with their parent or grandparent who is a foreign national, they have two options: (A) an application under the Parent/Grandparent Sponsorship Program which would allow the foreign national parent/grandparents to gain permanent residency in Canada; or (B) an application under the Super Visa program which would allow the foreign national parent/grandparent to enter Canada and stay temporarily for up to a maximum period of two years from the date of entry.
The Parent/Grandparent Sponsorship Program currently operates on an “invitation to apply” basis, which means that unlike the spousal sponsorship process, an invitation cannot be submitted “as of right”. Eligible individuals enter into a pool by submitting an interest to sponsor form and then await an invitation to sponsor being issued.
To be eligible under the Parent/Grandparent Sponsorship Program, a sponsor must be
- a Canadian citizen, permanent resident of Canada, or a registered Indian under the Canadian Indian Act;
- 18 years of age or older;
- residing in Canada (potential applicants will need to provide proof of status during the Interest to Sponsor phase);
- exceed the minimum necessary income level for this program (if married or in a common-law relationship, the income of both the sponsor and spouse can be included);
- willing to sign an undertaking
- to financially support the sponsored parent or grandparent for 20 years;
- to repay any social assistance benefits paid to the sponsored family members for a period of 20 years.
Individuals may not be eligible to sponsor a parent and grandparent if they:
- are in jail, prison, or penitentiary;
- did not pay back an immigration loan; a performance bond or court-ordered family support payments such as alimony or child support;
- did not give the financial support they agreed to when signing a sponsorship agreement to sponsor a relative in the past;
- declared bankruptcy and are not discharged;
- receive social assistance for a reason other than a disability;
- were convicted of a violent criminal offence, and any offence against a relative or any sexual offence inside or outside Canada;
- cannot legally stay in Canada and must leave the country because they received a Removal Order.
The Super Visa Program allows parents and grandparents to come to Canada as long-term visitors on a multi-entry visa that remains valid for up to 10 years. Unlike standard visitor visas, a Super Visa allows holders to remain in Canada for up to two years following initial entry to Canada.
To be eligible, parents and grandparents must meet standard visitor visa requirements, and additionally must:
- Provide a written commitment of financial support from their child or grandchild in Canada;
- Show that the sponsor in Canada meets minimum income requirements;
- Prove they have purchased Canadian health insurance for at least one year; and
- Complete an immigration medical examination.
Depending on their nationality, parents/grandparents may require a Temporary Resident Visa in addition to the Super Visa.
If you have received a procedural fairness letter, or your family class sponsorship has been denied, you may appeal the decision to the Immigration Appeal Division. Compliance with procedural rules and the relevant timelines is crucial in the appeal process. Retaining experienced legal counsel is highly advisable in order to maximize the chances of success of the appeal. Please contact us today to schedule a consultation to discuss your potential appeal.
Feel free to visit our immigration litigation tab to learn more about this practice area.