Families First: The Goal of Family Reunification in Canada’s Immigration System


Zeynab Ziaie is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and a lawyer licensed to practice in Ontario and New York. Her legal practice focuses on immigration and business law. She often works with clients to find suitable solutions in complex immigration and citizenship cases and represents clients at all levels of court. She can be reached at zeynab@ziaielaw.com.

What is family reunification?

One of the important pillars of Canada’s immigration policy is the goal of “family reunification”, the attempt to keep families together and to reunite families who may be separated before and after immigration. Unfortunately, immigration often leads to the separation of family members and I am certain that every reader will know of at least one family that has been separated and faced the devastating negative impact of the separation on their health and ability to integrate into Canada. The goal of family reunification recognizes this challenge and is an attempt to reduce the negative impact by helping new immigrants, as well as long-established citizens, to be reunited with certain members of their family.

Family Class Immigration

The federal Family Class immigration program receives thousands of applications each year and consists of the following categories:

  • Sponsorship of spouses, partners or dependent children
  • Sponsorship of parents and grandparents
  • Sponsorship of adopted children
  • In exceptional circumstances, sponsorship of other relatives

There are also certain provincial programs that may allow someone living in that province to be able to support an application of a close relative to be able to come to Canada.

The definition of what counts as “family” in Canada’s family reunification program has become more restricted over the years. Missing from these categories is an opportunity to easily sponsor extended family members such as brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. Nevertheless, these categories are still fairly generous and are processed relatively fast compared to family programs in other countries.

It is important to note that the goal of family reunification is balanced against other important policy interests such as preventing fraud and ensuring that the overall economic impact of family class immigration is positive. In the interest of preventing fraud, Canada has taken and continues to take steps to verify information and documents to prove genuineness of relationship and prevent misuse of the program. One such measure introduced by the previous Conservative government was to only grant conditional permanent residence for two years to sponsored spouses. This was intended to deter those who only wanted to marry a Canadian permanent resident or citizen to come to Canada and intended to leave their Canadian partner within a short time of receiving their permanent residence. The current Liberal government has eliminated this conditional residence but they have introduced more rigorous requirements for documentation to prove that a relationship is real before a permanent residence visa is issued.

Eligibility to Sponsor

If your relative qualifies under one of the four categories listed above, you may be able to sponsor them if you can show at a minimum that:

  • You are a Canadian citizen or permanent residence and are at least 18 years old
  • You are able to support your relative(s) financially when they arrive
  • You undertake that your relative(s) will not use social assistance from the government for 3 to 20 years (depending on the category)
  • And in some cases, you can show that your income is sufficient to support your immediate family as well as the person(s) you are sponsoring

There are additional requirements for each category as well. For example, to sponsor your husband or wife, you will need to show that you have not used social assistance and that your relationship is genuine. In the case of parents or grandparent sponsorship, you must demonstrate that you have sufficient income declared in your tax returns for the past three years to support yourself, your own family as well as your parent or parents that you are sponsoring. If you are sponsoring a dependent child, he or she must have been previously declared and examined when you immigrated to Canada in order to him or her to qualify as a family member that you can sponsor.

In each case you will benefit from analyzing your case carefully with a lawyer to ensure that you are qualified to sponsor and that your relative is eligible to be sponsored. In the coming weeks, I will be writing about these different categories and some of the important issues that you should be aware of when applying to sponsor relatives under each category.

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