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What are the Different Spousal Relationships Recognized by Canadian Immigration Law?

On October 30, 2020, Canada announced its 2021-2023 Immigration Levels Plan, the purpose of which is to support economic recovery following COVID-19 through immigration. Under this plan, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) aims to accept 401,000 new immigrants in 2021; 411,000 new immigrants in 2022; and 421,000 new immigrants in 2023.

This three-year plan also recognizes the importance of family reunification, and the government has committed to admitting over 100,000 individuals per year under the family class. If you are eligible, you can sponsor your common-law partner or spouse under the family class to become a permanent resident of Canada.

This blog post will guide you through the differences between conjugal, common-law, spousal sponsorship applications, and what steps you need to take to sponsor your significant other to Canada.

Are You Eligible?

The first step to any application is to ensure that you meet the eligibility as if you don’t, then there is no sense going any further. To sponsor a common-law partner or spouse, you must be eligible yourself to be a sponsor which means that:

  • You are at least 18 years old;
  • You are a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada, or you are an Indian under the Indian Act;
  • You are planning to live in Canada with your partner or spouse;
  • You are not receiving social assistance (other than disability); and
  • You are able to provide for the basic needs of your partner or spouse.

You may not sponsor your common-law partner or spouse if:

  • You have already made a common-law or spousal sponsorship application, and a decision on that application has not yet been made.
  • You were sponsored by a common-law partner or spouse and became a permanent resident less than five years ago;
  • You have sponsored another common-law partner or spouse in the past three years.
  • You sponsored someone in the past and failed to support them financially.
  • You are in jail, prison, or a penitentiary,
  • You did not pay back an immigration loan, a performance bond, or a court-ordered family support payment (such as alimony or child support).
  • You declared bankruptcy and have not yet been discharged.
  • You receive social assistance (other than disability);
  • You have a serious criminal conviction inside or outside of Canada; or
  • You have received a Removal Order.


As part of your undertaking when you sponsor, you are promising to take care of your partner or spouse financially for a period of time. This promise is called an “undertaking.” When you give this undertaking, you are committing to provide financial support for your partner or spouse for three years (even if the relationship ends), and you will repay any provincial financial assistance that your partner or spouse might get during that time.

You and your sponsored partner or spouse must also agree to certain responsibilities during the undertaking period. This agreement is called the “sponsorship agreement.” The agreement states that you will provide for the basic needs of your partner or spouse during this period and that your partner or spouse will make the best effort to support themselves and any family members that they bring along.

When you apply for a common-law or spousal sponsorship, you will have to complete and sign a form that includes the undertaking and sponsorship agreement.

Income Requirement

In most cases, there is no income requirement if you are only sponsoring your common-law partner or spouse to Canada. There is only an income requirement if your partner or spouse has a dependent child, and that dependent child has a dependent child of their own. However, there are applicable fees that you should keep in mind, which will be discussed later.

What are the Different Relationships?

Although there are a few notable differences between a common-law partner and a spouse, there are also some similarities. To be eligible for a spousal, common-law, or conjugal sponsorship, the individual must be at least 18 years old. All relationships also have the commonality that both opposite- and same-sex relationships are recognized and accepted. Common-law and conjugal relationships are also “married-like” in nature, although they are not legally married. This means the couple is interdependent, shares emotional and physical ties, and intimacy.

However, while your spouse is someone to whom you are legally married, common-law and conjugal partners are not married. Additionally, to be considered a common-law partner, that person must also be living with you for at least 12 consecutive months (i.e. living together continuously for one year in a conjugal relationship). Any time that you and your common-law partner spend away from one another must be short and temporary. The onus is on the applicant to prove the validity of their relationship and that they have been living together for at least one year.

Another common question we get is about the difference between a common-law spouse and a conjugal spouse. For immigration purposes, a conjugal partner is similar to a common-law partner, but the key factor is that the partners cannot live with or be married to the applicant in their country of residence because of legal restrictions. These restrictions may include marital status, sexual orientation, or fear of persecution.

For example, a partnership may be considered conjugal if a same-sex couple cannot live together or get married because same-sex marriage is prohibited or illegal in their country. Like a common-law partnership, the couple must be mutually interdependent (financially, socially, emotionally, and physically). The relationship has only been prevented from becoming a marriage because of a reason above. You can sponsor a conjugal partner under Canadian immigration law if there is a significant degree of attachment in the relationship and you have been in a genuine relationship for at least one year but marriage or cohabitation is not possible because of the legal barriers stated above.

How to prove your relationship?

The officer deciding your sponsorship application needs to be convinced that there is a genuine relationship between you and your common-law partner or spouse. A relationship that is not genuine is one that is entered into for the purpose of acquiring permanent residency. These are called “relationships of convenience” and these relationships will be refused and can be subject to bans for such things as “misrepresentation”. As such, when you make your sponsorship application, you will also need to submit supporting documents that show evidence of a real and genuine relationship.

Evidence for Spousal Relationships

As mentioned previously, to be considered a “spouse” the person you are sponsoring must be married to you. As such, you are required to prove that the two of you are married by providing a marriage certificate and proof of marriage registration with a government authority. Additionally, you must also complete a Relationship Information and Sponsorship Evaluation questionnaire (IMM 5532), which is included in the application package.

You are also expected to provide at least two of the following sets of documents as an example:

  • Proof that you and your spouse have joint ownership of property;
  • A lease or rental agreement to show that you live together;
  • Proof of joint utility accounts, such as electricity, gas, telephone, or Internet;
  • Vehicle insurance to show that you and your spouse live at the same address;
  • Copies of government-issued documents, such as a driver’s licence, to show that you and your spouse live at the same address; and
  • Other documents showing that you and your spouse live in the same place, but do not necessarily share the accounts jointly, such as cell phone bills, pay stubs, tax forms, bank or credit card statements, and so on.


Evidence for Common-law Relationships

While your common-law partner is not married to you, you are still required to show that the relationship is genuine and that you and your partner live together. The evidence that you are required to include is a completed Relationship Information and Sponsorship Evaluation questionnaire (IMM 5532) and photos of you and your partner together to show that you are in a conjugal relationship.

You must also include two of the following documents:

  • Documents showing that you and your partner are recognized as each other’s common-law partner, such as joint leases, employment, and insurance benefits;
  • Documentary evidence showing that you and your partner support each other financially or have shared expenses such as joint bank statements; and
  • Other proof that the relationship is recognized by your friends and family, such as affidavits from your friends and family about your relationship and social media information showing a public relationship.
  • A signed and notarized Common-law declaration form (IMM 5406)

As well as proving to IRCC that you and your partner have a genuine relationship, you must also show that you have lived together for at least one year. There are a number of ways to show this.  

One way is to show shared ownership of residential property, such as a house or condo. You can also show that you have a shared lease or rental agreement that dates back at least one year. Bills for shared utility accounts, such as gas, electricity, telephone, and Internet can be used to show that you two live jointly and share financial expenses. Documents such as your driver’s licences, insurance policies, and other identification documents that have proof of address can also confirm that you and your common-law partner reside at the same address. Finally, you can also prove that you live together by showing that you share responsibility in managing the household, like providing receipts for groceries and dividing chores. Affidavits and letters of support from friends and family can also be used.

Evidence for Conjugal Relationships

While your conjugal partner is not married to you, you are still required to show that the relationship is genuine and prove the persecution or penal control discussed above. The evidence that you are required to include is a completed Relationship Information and Sponsorship Evaluation questionnaire (IMM 5532) and photos of you and your partner together to show that you are in a conjugal relationship.

You also must prove the following:

  • Evidence that you have maintained a conjugal relationship for at least 12 months
  • Proof you are in a committed and mutually interdependent relationship of some permanence
  • Prove inability to cohabit due to persecution or penal control


Inadmissibility

You cannot sponsor someone inadmissible to Canada. “Inadmissible” means that that person is not allowed to come to Canada. If the person you are sponsoring, i.e., the principal applicant has any immediate family members that are inadmissible, it could make the applicant inadmissible as well.

There are several reasons that your common-law partner or spouse may be inadmissible. These reasons may include:

  • Security reasons, such as espionage, subversion, violence or terrorism, or membership in a criminal organization;
  • Human or international rights violations, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, or being a senior official in a government engaged in gross human rights violations or subject to international sanctions;
  • Misrepresentation, which means that your common-law partner or spouse has provided false or withholding information on another application to the IRCC (this bars sponsorships for five years); or
  • Your common-law partner or spouse has a family member who is inadmissible.


A Final Word

In conclusion, common-law and spousal sponsorships can often be a complicated and tedious process. Your application includes many forms and documentary evidence to show that you and your significant other are in a genuine committed relationship. It is important to do the process correctly the first time, and so you might benefit from the help of an immigration consultant, or lawyer to guide you through what needs to be done.

Should you have any questions about spousal sponsorships and if you qualify, feel free to reach out to us and we will surely get you started to understand the options that are available to you!


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