Family Sponsorship Immigration Overview

Canada’s Family Class is the second largest immigration category, making it an important option for newcomers.

Citizens and permanent residents aged 18 or over can sponsor certain family members to become Canadian permanent residents, allowing them to live, study and work here.

Basic requirements for family sponsorship:

To be a sponsor:

  • You must be 18 years of age or older.
  • You must be a Canadian citizen, or a permanent resident or a person registered in Canada as an Indian under the Canadian Indian Act.
  • You and the sponsored relative must sign a sponsorship agreement that commits you to provide financial support for your relative, if necessary. This agreement also says the person becoming a permanent resident will make every effort to support her or himself.
  • Depending on the person you sponsor, additional obligations may be imposed.

Who you can sponsor:

  • A spouse, a common-law partner or a conjugal partner
  • Your dependent children
  • Your parents and grandparents
  • Your brothers or sisters, nephews or nieces, granddaughters or grandsons who are orphaned, under 18 years of age and not married or in a common-law relationship
  • Another relative of any age or relationship but only under specific conditions
  • Certain accompanying relatives of the above


Spouse – You are a spouse if you are married to your sponsor and your marriage is legally valid.

Common-law partner – You are a common-law partner, either of the opposite sex or same-sex if you have been living together in a conjugal relationship for at least one year continuous (a 12-month period that was not interrupted). You will need proof that you and your common-law partner have combined your affairs and set up a household.

Conjugal partner – This category is for partners, either of the opposite sex or same-sex, where exceptional circumstances beyond their control prevented them from living together and therefore cannot qualifying as common-law partners or spouses.

Dependent children – A son or daughter is dependent when the child:

  • is under the age of 22 and does not have a spouse or common-law partner;
  • is over the age of 22 and depended substantially on the financial support of a parent since before the age of 22 because of a physical or mental condition.

Spousal Work Permit

Spouses and common-law partners who are in Canada may be allowed to work under the Spousal Open Work Permit, while their immigration applications are being finalized.

When they apply for an open work permit, spouses or common-law partners must also be

  • in a genuine relationship with their sponsor
  • included in an application for permanent residence, and have an Acknowledgement of Receipt (AOR) letter confirming that their permanent residence application is being processed
  • living in Canada with their sponsor

While the spouse’s or partner’s PR application is being processed, they must:

  • maintain legal status as a temporary resident in Canada, and
  • wait for their work permit application to be approved before starting to work
  • If they already have a work permit that is expiring, they can keep working as long as they maintain their status as a worker.

Sponsorship Obligations

All sponsors are required to sign an undertaking to provide the sponsored person with the basic requirements from the day they enter Canada until the term of the undertaking terminates. The undertaking is a contract between the sponsor(s) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that the sponsor will repay the government for any social assistance payments made to the sponsored person. Sponsors remain obligated to the undertaking agreement for the entire period of the contract, even in a change of circumstances such as marital breakdown, separation, divorce, or a financial change in circumstances.

In the case of a spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner, a sponsor is required to sign an undertaking to reimburse the federal or provincial governments from the date in which they become a permanent resident for the period of three (3) years.

In the case of a dependent child under the age of 22 years, of the sponsor or the spouse, common-law partner, or conjugal partner, the obligation commences on the day that the child becomes a permanent resident of Canada for the period of 10 years or until the child reaches the age of 30+ years, whichever is earlier. In the province of Quebec, the length of this undertaking is different.

In the case of a dependent child over the age of 22 years, of the sponsor or the spouse, common-law partner, or conjugal partner, the obligation commences on the day that the dependent child becomes a permanent resident, for a period of three (3) years.

In the case of parents and grandparents, the sponsorship obligation extends for a period of 20 years from the date in which the member of the family class becomes a permanent resident. For all other family members, the obligation is of a duration of 10 years.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in its 2011 judgment of Attorney-General of Canada vs. Mavi, decided that while a sponsor’s obligation to reimburse the state for benefits collected by his or her relatives can be deferred in some circumstances, it cannot be wiped off the books entirely.

Sponsors living outside Canada

Canadian citizens living outside of Canada may sponsor their spouse, common-law partner, conjugal partner or dependent children without dependent children of their own, who have not been convicted of an offense causing bodily harm, provided that they are able to demonstrate that they will reside in Canada after the sponsored persons become permanent residents.

Permanent residents residing abroad may not sponsor their family members from outside Canada. They must reside in Canada during the sponsorship process.

Furthermore, a spouse or common-law partner in Canada may file an in-Canada application to sponsor their spouse or common-law partner if they are cohabiting in Canada; otherwise, the application must be filed through a visa office. These are areas that give rise to various complexities and challenges for sponsors.

Sponsors and sponsored persons in Quebec:

Sponsor (guarantor): You can sponsor a close relative who has not been convicted of an offense causing bodily harm if you are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident living in Quebec, you are at least 18 years of age and you satisfy the prerequisites.

Sponsored person (close relative): You can sponsor:

  • your spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner
  • your dependent child
  • your father, mother, grandfather or grandmother – Additional conditions apply
  • your orphaned brother, sister, nephew, niece, grandson or granddaughter, who is under the age of 18, and not married or in a common-law relationship
  • a child you plan to adopt (international adoption).

For those in Quebec, the undertaking also involves helping the sponsored individual learn French and access public services in the province.