Family members and certain relatives may immigrate to Canada as sponsored individuals.

Canadian citizens or permanent residents can sponsor family members by signing an undertaking promising to support those family members for a three to ten year period. The unconditional undertaking prohibits the sponsored family member from applying for social assistance.

Sponsorship applications are available to spouses, common-law partners, dependent children, parents, and grandparents of the Canadian citizen or permanent resident acting as a sponsor. Only brothers, sisters, nephews or nieces, grandsons or granddaughters who are orphaned and under the age of 18 are eligible for sponsorship. If the Canadian citizen or permanent resident does not have any family members from the above list, then he or she may sponsor any other family member.

A dependent child is defined as a child who is under the age of 19 and does not have a spouse or common-law partner or is 19 or over and financially dependent on a parent due to a disability.

Spousal Sponsorships – Overseas Processing

If you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and you marry a foreigner or enter into a common-law or conjugal relationship, you may sponsor your spouse to become a Canadian permanent resident. Generally, a permanent resident must be residing in Canada, while a Canadian citizen must demonstrate an intention to return to Canada (if residing abroad) in order to qualify as a sponsor. There is no minimum income required to sponsor a spouse, although the sponsor must demonstrate that they are able to financially sustain themselves.

It is not uncommon for a Canadian citizen to marry abroad and return to Canada while the sponsorship application is processed overseas. In many cases the married spouse remains in their country of origin, while the Canadian spouse returns to Canada. Normally spousal sponsorship applications of this kind take between six to ten months to process.

For couples who are not married, proof of cohabitation under the same roof for a period of twelve months qualifies them as common-law spouses. Furthermore, if the couple is at the time of the application living apart, they must demonstrate that they are in a continuing relationship.

Another category that is even more flexible is than marriage or common-law is sponsorship as a conjugal partner. In a nutshell, a conjugal partner is defined as a person who resides principally outside of Canada whom the Canadian sponsor has maintained a “committed and mutually interdependent relationship” that combines the affairs of both individuals. The category is intended for persons who would normally apply as common-law partners but whom cannot meet the definition because they have not lived together for one year (the extenuating circumstances must be compelling). In addition, the applicant should demonstrate that marriage is not a viable option due to issues such as marital status, sexual orientation, or other legal obstacles.

In all of the above categories, same-sex relationships qualify for sponsorship. However, with regard to marriages, the same-sex marriage was performed in Canada or in a jurisdiction that legally recognizes same-sex marriages.

Individuals sponsored as spouses only receive a conditional permanent residence status that can be revoked if the relationship ends within a two year period from the date of Landing in Canada. Exceptions for victims of domestic violence apply. Couples that have children or have been together for more than two years prior to applying are not subject to the two year conditional status. In addition, a Canadian sponsor cannot sponsor a new person until three years have elapsed since their first sponsorship. If the sponsor was himself sponsored, they cannot act as a sponsor until five years have elapsed since they became a permanent resident.

The purpose behind the conditional status is to dissuade fraudulent marriages.

Spousal Sponsorships – Inland Applications

In addition to overseas processing, Canada has a special policy that allows a spouse who has lost their legal status in Canada to apply for permanent residence from within Canada. The policy was implemented to bring into the system many undocumented individuals whom have spent considerable time in Canada and are married or in common-law relationships with Canadian citizens or residents. The only ground of inadmissibility that is tolerated under the policy is having overstayed one’s initial visa. Individuals falling within other grounds of inadmissibility such as criminality or health cannot benefit from this policy.Other restrictions also apply to in-land sponsorship applications, including no right to appeal a negative decision, restrictions on travel, and longer processing times than files submitted to overseas visa posts. The decision to pursue an in-land spousal application should only be taken after consulting with an experienced immigration lawyer.

Open Work Permits for Inland Spousal Sponsorship Applicants

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) announced a one year pilot program in December 2014 for issuing open work permits to individuals who have submitted a permanent residence application under the Spouses and Common-Law Partners in Canada class (also known as an Inland Spousal Sponsorship application). Prior to this pilot project, an applicant was not eligible for a work permit until they received a file number for their Inland application, which now takes more than a year.

This pilot project is only available to applicants who have valid temporary resident status as a visitor, student or worker in Canada at the time the work permit application is received by CIC. To be eligible for the two-year open work permit, the applicant must have submitted an Inland application and be residing at the same address as their sponsor spouse or common-law partner.

A work permit is not automatically granted when an inland spousal sponsorship application is made. The applicant should include a work permit application and the relevant fees when they submit their Inland application. If the Inland application is already in process, then the applicant should submit a work permit application separately with proof that the Inland application was made.

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