Family Class Spouse or Common-Law: The Basics

Every year, Canada invites thousands of people across the globe to become permanent residents of Canada through the Family Class Spousal or Common-Law Sponsorship Category. The intent of the family class program is to reunite Canadians with close family members. Sponsorship applications involving spouses, common-law and in some cases conjugal partners are given priority processing to ensure loved ones are reunited as quickly as possible. Although processing times can take up to 12 months for a decision, we find many family class spousal applications are approved in a fraction of that time. Processing times can vary depending on the visa office where an application is being reviewed.

How do I sponsor my spouse or common-law partner to Canada?
Woah, just one sec! For the few of you who aren’t legally married, we want to make sure you meet the definition of common-law. What exactly is a common-law partner? From a Canadian immigration point of view, a “commonlaw”partner means a couple which has lived together continuously for at least one year in a marriage-like relationship. For any of you who would like to sponsor your partner overseas, you must prove you have lived together for at least 12 months continuously to meet the definition of common-law. 

Can I sponsor my fiancé to Canada?
No. There is no fiancé route to immigrate to Canada. That being said, you may meet the definition of common-law. Another alternative route is a conjugal partner which is not discussed here due to its rarity. To immigrate as a conjugal partner, the sponsor and applicant must not meet common-law partner status. In addition, getting married must not be possible. Reasons arising from fear of persecution in your home country, marital status, sexual orientation and immigration barriers can contribute to someone meeting eligibility for the conjugal partner route if they’ve been in a marriage-like relationship for at least 12 months.

Sponsor Eligibility
If you’re a Canadian citizen or permanent resident 18 years of age and older, you may be able to sponsor your spouse or common-law partner to become a permanent resident of Canada. In addition, it is important that you’re not receiving any form of social assistance – other than due to a disability.
If you 

  • have declared bankruptcy
  • are in jail, prison, or a penitentiary
  • were convicted of a serious criminal offence or 
  • haven’t paid back loans or family/child support

These circumstances require an attentive evaluation. We take care to assess your case in more detail to determine whether or not you’re eligible.

As a sponsor, do I need to earn enough money?
The most common misconception for a sponsor is that they must earn a certain amount of income to be allowed to sponsor their spouse or partner. The good news is that you do not have to meet any minimum income requirement unless you are sponsoring a dependent child(ren) who has a dependent child(ren) of their own. Keep in mind that as a sponsor you are making a promise to the government of Canada that you will take care of your partner’s basic needs for 3 years after they become a permanent resident. In simple terms, this means that your partner cannot apply for social assistance after they become a resident. It’s important to show proof of documents at the time of application that you can support your spouse. You should provide some sort of financial document(s) such as your most recent Notice of Assessment from the Canada Revenue Agency. If you’re working, a job reference letter is also necessary.

What documents does a sponsor need to provide?
It’s not all that time consuming to provide basic documentation. The documents listed below are typically required to include with your application:‍

  • Notice of Assessment
  • Passport, PR Card or Birth Certificate to prove Canadian status
  • Job Letter
  • Marriage Certificate and prior Divorce Certificate(s) if applicable

What documents does a spouse or common-law partner (the person being sponsored) need to provide?
Keep in mind that you as the applicant must already be admissible to Canada. This should always be determined prior to starting an application with your immigration representative. In addition, you as the applicant are already married to a Canadian or have met the common-law definition. The documents listed below are typically required to accompany your spousal sponsorship application. Keep in mind that if you are including dependent children, they may also have to provide some of these documents. 

  • Birth Certificate
  • Passport
  • Marriage Certificate and prior Divorce Certificates if applicable
  • Proof of status in Canada if applicable
  • Relationship Evidence
  • Police Clearance(s)
  • Passport Photos

Interpreting a Genuine Relationship

It is critical that with any spousal or common-law sponsorship application, the onus is on the couple to prove the legitimacy of the relationship. What exactly does this mean? According to Canadian immigration regulations, a foreign national shall NOT be considered a spouse or common-law partner if the officer believes that the marriage or conjugal relationship was entered into primarily for the purpose of acquiring any status or privilege under the Act; or is not genuine [R4(1)].Officers must have sufficient evidence to come to a decision that a relationship is not genuine. The onus is always on you to provide proof of a genuine relationship, such as:

  • Proof of living together (for at least 12 months for common-law partners)
  • Joint accounts
  • Shared expenses
  • Pictures
  • Emails, Letters, Social Media chats