Sponsoring your Spouse or Partner: The Basics

By: Matthew K. Rymer BA, JD

Family reunification is a key value of the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). One of the best ways to reunite families in Canada is through family class sponsorship for permanent residency. An eligible Canadian citizen or permanent resident can sponsor his or her spouse, partner, dependent children, parents, grandparents, and, rarely, other relatives. In this post, I will be writing about the basics of spousal sponsorship.

The Sponsor

With spousal sponsorship, the sponsor does more than just sign forms. The sponsor undertakes or promises to provide financial support for the basic needs of their spouse or partner and any accompanying dependent children. An undertaking for a spouse or partner lasts for 3 years from the time he or she becomes a permanent resident of Canada. If a sponsored spouse or partner receives social assistance during this period, the sponsor will have to pay the government back.

To become a sponsor, you must be at least 18 years old and a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. The sponsor of a spouse or partner does not have to meet minimum income requirements but must not be receiving social assistance unless it is for a disability.[1] A permanent resident must live in Canada to become a sponsor. A Canadian citizen, however, can become a sponsor while living elsewhere but must show proof of intention to live in Canada when their spouse or partner becomes a permanent resident.

There are some potential bars to becoming a sponsor including when a person:

  • Has failed to pay court-ordered support payments;

  • Is in penitentiary, jail, reformatory or prison;

  • Is in the process of bankruptcy;

  • Was convicted of certain sexual or violent crimes;

  • Previously sponsored a spouse or partner less than 3 years ago; and

  • Was previously sponsored by a spouse or partner less than 5 years ago.

If you have concerns about your eligibility as a sponsor, I highly recommend speaking with an immigration lawyer.

The Principal Applicant (Spouse or Partner)

If you meet the eligibility requirements as a sponsor, you may be able to sponsor your spouse, common-law partner, or conjugal partner. If you want to sponsor your spouse, your marriage must be legally valid both in the country where the wedding took place and in Canada.

Important reminders for married couples:

  • If you are in the process of getting divorced, wait for the divorce to become final (certificate in hand) before marrying again.

  • If marriage in your culture or country has multiple steps or stages, complete all steps before applying for sponsorship. For example: if there is an initial civil ceremony but you are not really married (culturally) until a community celebration takes place, do not apply for spousal sponsorship until after the celebration to avoid problems.

  • Take lots of photographs of your wedding-related events and ceremonies.

For immigration purposes, a common-law relationship is defined as living together continuously in a marriage-like relationship for at least 12 months. Remember to collect and keep evidence of living together such as photographs, bills in joint names, lease agreements, and other records.

A conjugal partnership is a marriage-like relationship of at least 12 months where marriage and living together hasn’t been possible because of barriers beyond your control (such as immigration or religious reasons).   

Principal applicants must be at least 18 years old, in a genuine relationship with the sponsor, and not inadmissible to Canada. Common reasons for inadmissibility include: criminality, medical issues, misrepresentation, and failure to comply with provisions of IRPA (Immigration and Refugee Protection Act).   

If an immigration officer doubts the genuineness of the relationship, the application may be denied. A large age gap or a hasty wedding, for example, may be seen as “red flags”. Remember to keep documentation of your relationship such as letters, photos, and online messages. Some documentation is required with the initial application but an officer may request more information and documentation at a later time if there are any concerns.   

Principal applicants for spousal sponsorship will often have accompanying dependent children. I will address dependent children in a separate blog post as sponsoring children comes with its own complex issues.

The detailed instructions for sponsoring a family member on the IRCC website can be helpful:  http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/immigrate/sponsor/spouse.asp.

This post has been a brief introduction to spousal sponsorship. Before applying to sponsor your spouse, consider speaking with an immigration lawyer to identify any potential issues and possible ways to resolve the issues.

NOTICE TO READER: The summaries of legal rights and remedies described above are general references to the Canadian laws existing at the date of the publication and may not apply to the reader’s individual circumstances. Also, the laws may change. These legal summaries are not to be relied upon as applicable to your individual circumstances and are subject to a complete review of the facts and applicable laws in every case.


[1] The minimum income requirements do apply, however, when the spouse or partner who will be accompanied by grandchildren.

Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash