Many Canadian citizens living abroad meet someone special, get married, and have children. Years of life go by and then a time comes when many consider moving back to Canada to take advantage of an opportunity, to experience a better lifestyle in Canada, to set their children up for future higher education studies, or simply to have their spouse and children experience what life is like in Canada - to expand their horizons.
This is a very common question and the short answer is:
The Longer answer:
Well, the longer version is still pretty straightforward. The only added wrinkle is that you can also choose a second pathway: You return to Canada before applying for a PR, with your foreign citizen spouse arriving on a visitor visa in Canada. You then sponsor your spouse for PR status immediately after you arrive together. This is called an "inbound" application.
A bonus to this pathway: If you return to Canada first and then apply to sponsor your spouse they can also apply for an "open work permit" at the same time as you submit the PR application, allowing them to work and access public health care and other benefits during the remaining waiting period for the PR application to be approved.
The following diagram may help you conceptually understand your application pathway options:
The official Government of Canada "Sponsor your spouse, partner, or child.." web page and process for applying for a PR.
Most people (75% +/-) complete the application by themselves, per my experiences with clients. The application takes some time to work through, so be prepared for this. A few general notes:
Feedback from Debbie B. who in my experience did the most diligent and well-crafted PR application I have ever witnessed. Needless to say her application sailed through IRCC processing smoothly and quickly:
Now that I've had time to think about the process of coming back, I'd say the single most critical thing to get 100% right is the PR application form. I operated on the principle that you cannot provide too much supporting documentation. In our case they asked for 'up to 22' photographs proving the length of the relationship. I sent them 22. I've seldom seen such poorly-designed forms, which is where your help was so invaluable. I spent the better part of six weeks amassing documents and repeatedly checking the completed forms. We then went on holiday for six weeks and, on our return, I checked all the forms and supporting paperwork AGAIN. And do not rely on the CDN postal system under any circumstances. We sent our application with Fedex.
Question: "Will the application be approved for sure?"
Answer: For the vast majority of applicants the process is long and must be followed very carefully but does normally lead to a successful outcome. In exceptional cases a spousal sponsorship is not approved. For Canadian citizens of good standing legally in Canada, with a long-time marriage or common-law relationship, no financial complications, and whose spouse is in relatively good health and good legal standing abroad, it works out just fine.
Question: "Do we have to be married? Or are 'common law' relationships allowed?"
Answer: If you have been in a long-term common law relationship you can sponsor your partner for PR status in Canada.
Question: "How long does the Permanent Resident sponsorship process take?"
Answer: Preparing for the application can take 1-2 months depending on how fast you work on it. Recent processing times reported by my clients range widely from as soon as 5 months when applying from the U.S. to 18+ months, though the Canadian government's web site still shows different timings. So expect a total of 7-18 months from the beginning of preparing your application to receiving a decision by the government and your "Confirmation of Permanent Resident" (COPR) status.
Question: "Should I do the sponsorship application myself or hire a Canadian immigration lawyer?"
Answer: Firstly, I can state clearly that unless you have serious issues to consider as part of your situation, you do not need an immigration lawyer. They are far too expensive for a normal PR sponsorship application and they hand your work an inhouse RCIC staff member to do it (definition of RCIC coming next). However, please do hire a full immigration lawyer if you have a complicated and very uncertain case!
If you find the PR application process daunting or you are simply too busy to work through it yourself, you can hire someone to help. The person you want to hire is a "Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant", or "RCIC" for short.
And you want a reputable RCIC! Whenever there are important legal, physical, and psychological boundaries to cross which people are eager to get through there are predators and parasites who want to prey on your desire and fear.
The literal and metaphorical border of Canada is one such important boundary. It is the place potential emigrants from around the world really want to get through to live and work here in Canada. This is where another form of predator and parasite appears: The person who tells you they can "get you into Canada and get your citizenship approved"...for a big fee. The government of Canada has been cracking down on this form of fraud, but it can still happen. While in other countries there are people who can bribe a government official to get paperwork approved, in Canada we have a pretty integral immigration system that works well. It is not really "bribable". Stay away from anyone who offers you a fast and easy PR or immigration process in Canada. There is a very good chance they are not honest.
How to choose a good immigration consultant: Like with any professional, check their credentials, find out how long they have been doing this work, ask for referrals from others who have used their services, and start a conversation with an immigration consultant yourself to be sure you feel comfortable working with them. A good RCIC can support your PR application regardless of where they are in Canada or to which province you are intending to move to in Canada.
I can recommend three excellent RCIC's. All are experienced, great good to work with, and are of very high integrity. Many of my clients use their services and are pleased:
Trusted Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants. (Professionals page of this site)
Note: I get no commission or other benefit from recommending them, so you can trust these are solid referrals.
Tip: If you complete the application yourself but feel rushed and too busy in your personal life to be sure it has been completed perfectly you can hire some RCIC's to review it for completeness and correctness. Their relatively small fee can save you huge headaches later should your application be returned or rejected (requiring resubmission) if missed something important, misunderstood a question, or made a mistake on the application. From the 3 RCIC's I recommend (see link above) Shkendie Kaba Booth does reviews of completed applications at a very reasonable rate for her professional work.
Question: "We submitted our PR Spousal Sponsorship application 3 weeks ago. Why haven't we heard anything? Waiting and not hearing anything is making us anxious!"
Answer: This is a question I hear many times. First and most importantly: You have most likely done your paperwork correctly and sent it to the right place. So, the reason you haven't heard anything is not because of something you have or haven't done. It takes 1 - 3 months to get the Canadian Government to acknowledge receipt of your PR application, check it for completeness, and tell you they have begun to process it. This can be an anxious waiting period, I know! If you haven't heard anything after 3 months from the date you couriered your PR Spousal Sponsorship application, this is when you might engage the support of a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) to advise you on what might be holding up the acknowledgement process for your specific application. They can review everything you submitted (assuming you kept a copy of what you submitted) and provide guidance on what to do next.
Important Note for 2023 and 2024: The above "within 3 months" is the norm but due to the huge number of applications IRCC received between 2020 and 2023 means IRCC's processing of the first step is taking much longer. This is of course very frustrating and adds uncertainty and complications into your planning and life. Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to speed up IRCC processing. I have heard of people calling their Member of Parliament ("MP") who then makes an inquiry to IRCC. The result? "The application has been received and is awaiting checking for completeness."
And a further paradox? I have heard from several people that applications are not being processed in a linear "first-in, first-out" manner.
Question: "What is the phone number in the government of Canada for me to call to find out the status of my PR Spousal Sponsorship application? I sent it in 3 weeks ago!"
Answer: Sorry. Trying to talk to someone about the status of your PR application before it is acknowledged (before you receive a processing number) is like trying to break into Fort Knox (If you are too young to know what that means, it is the place the U.S. used to keep their gold). Please let me know if you can find a way to get an update over the phone of a PR application before it is acknowledged as "in the system" and before you have an application number.
Note: Once the government has acknowledged your application and given you an application processing number, you can check the status online and can use this information to speak to a real, live person about it.
Another Note: You can only call from within Canada to Immigration Canada. Otherwise you can use the web form on their site to contact them once you have a application number. Alternatively, if you have a family member, friend, or RCIC you engaged in Canada who can call on your behalf using your application number for a question you can't find an answer to, this may work, too. Finally, some people are getting a Canadian phone number through such services as FONDO or TeleMe so that they have a local number in Canada to call IRCC and for job applications, too.
Question: "If we apply from within Canada, may we travel during the PR application processing period?"
Answer: Generally, yes, you can travel outside of Canada for a short business trip or vacation - 1 to 2 weeks total at a time for the whole PR processing period. My clients and others who applied to sponsor a spouse find that it works just fine for a short trip or two. However, you want to be living in Canada during the whole processing period and indicate this by actually being in Canada. Much travelling or being outside of Canada makes it appear you do not actually want to live here.
However, once the PR is approved it is not recommended to travel by plane until you have the physical PR card in-hand. Some of my clients are experiencing travel complications in the gap of time between when they have accepted their PR and when they receive their physical PR card. Clients are reporting that it takes several weeks for the physical PR card to arrive.
Question: "We are applying from outside of Canada. Once the PR is approved, how much time do we have to accept the PR? In other words, we might not be ready to move. How long do we have before we lose the PR offer?"
Answer: There are different reports coming in about this, but you generally have 1 year to accept the PR and 1 year to move after that. In other reports I am hearing that you simply have 12 months to accept the PR based on the date of the medical exam. My suggestion: Whether you are ready to move shortly after receiving notification that your PR is approved or not, do accept it promptly. Either visit Canada and have the PR accepted at the airport or land border or move back and accept the PR as part of the move within a few months of receiving the approval and within the stated window noted on your COPR when it arrives. This avoids any question by Immigration Canada as to whether you really want to live in Canada or not.
Question: "What happens if a sponsor dies before the applicant has an approved PR?" While this is a more rare occurrence it does happen. Thank you to Wendy P. who shares in 2023 what she learned, which is not easy information to find:
I would like to share a little known fact, and one that is difficult to find information on, including from the IRCC web-site and speaking to agents, although I did finally get the information.
There are a variety of family sponsorship scenarios, so I will only address here when a Canadian citizen is sponsoring a spouse foreign national (eg. US citizen) for permanent residency. From the time the application is submitted to IRCC to the time a decision is made.(average 13 months), and the sponsor dies eg., suicide, cancer, stroke, motor vehicle accident, etc), there is no longer an eligible sponsor; no undertaking; nothing. IRCC has to be notified of the change in status with legal documentation, death certificate, etc., through the web site. The only thing the applicant may be eligible for is a refund of certain fees. The applicant is no longer able to be considered for permanent residency; the application dies with the sponsor. No sponsor alive, no go. There are examples of what to do if there is a co-sponsor, dependent, so best to carefully obtain needed information if the sponsor dies in the application period.
If the death of sponsor is after the Applicant becomes a permanent resident, it’s ok, as long as they meet the legislated requirements to stay (eg days in Canada requirement, no criminality, etc). If the original financial undertaking of the sponsor is not met, and the applicant has to rely on social services, authorities can make a decision as to whether or not to seek reimbursement from the deceased sponsors estate relevant to the 3 year undertaking. Should other issues arise, there may be humanitarian and compassionate grounds, best interests of children, and of course appeal, and judicial review of decisions.
Question: Sponsoring parents of the spouse applying for a PR: "First, thank you for answering my questions about moving my foreign citizen spouse to Canada! That was a concern. Your FAQ eased my mind on many questions there. How hard is it for my in-laws to get permanent resident status? I see a few sources online say I can sponsor my parent for permanent resident status through the Family Class Sponsorship program. It's unclear if my in-laws count as parents."
Answer: If at some point in the future the parents of the person you are sponsoring under the "Spousal Sponsorship" would like to move to Canada I recommend working with an RCIC now to plan for this. They will have the expertise to help you navigate this well in advance so that when your "inlaws" are ready to move to Canada you will understand and have the correct process underway to sponsor them.
Are you planning on completing your PR application yourself and need some general contextual help?
I support clients with general questions on applying to sponsor a spouse for PR status. The most common areas I advise on are on pathway decisions, the timing of applications in the context of your overall move back to Canada, dual-citizenship concerns, separate moves (one spouse comes first), working remotely, and meeting residency requirements. These questions are part of the full professional support services that I offer.
Note: I am not a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant and may not legally provide full consulting and immigration representation services.
The great news:
If one or both biological parents were born in Canada then their children are automatically Canadian citizens!
The not so good news:
If both of you, the parents, were not born in Canada, but one or both of you received a Canadian citizenship either from your Canadian parent or from being naturalized as a Canadian, your children may not automatically be Canadian citizens. When you move back you may have to sponsor them to bring them to Canada with you.
The slightly more complicated news:
If one or both biological parents *were* born in Canada, which most returning Canadians have as their reality you need to get the government of Canada to confirm that your children really are citizens. And to do so, you must apply for proof of citizenship. I also recommend getting Canadian passports for your children immediately after you receive proof of citizenship (more below on this).
Note: This only applies when a Canadian-born parent is a Canadian citizen in good standing. If you have a complicated legal status in Canada your children may not be automatically deemed Canadian citizens.
The official Government of Canada "Get proof of citizenship" web page and application process.
Question: "How long does it take for the government of Canada to confirm my children's Canadian citizenship?
Answer: It depends. Some people are finding that they can get it done in a matter of weeks using the "rush" order system. Others are finding it takes many months or closer to a year. If you know you are moving back to Canada in the coming year, get your application submitted at least 12 months in advance of your move.
If you are in a really urgent and time-sensitive situation, there is an option to apply for rush processing, which can take 4-8 weeks. However the criteria are pretty clear: It must be a real need for this priority processing.
Question: "Should I get my children Canadian passports as well as proof of Canadian citizenship?"
Answer: An emphatic "YES!" A Canadian passport will mean they don't need U.S. or Canadian travel authorizations, they will be allowed to enter Canada from all countries in world (dual citizens MUST have a Canadian passport), and they will have a form of Canadian primary photo identification when they arrive in Canada. I suggest applying for your children's Canadian passports immediately after you receive their proof of citizenship.
Note: It used to be the case that you could apply for the passport at the same time as the proof of citizenship but I am hearing reports that you must now apply for a passport after you receive proof of citizenship.
Question: "Does the fact that my children have proof of Canadian citizenship and Canadian passports impact my application to sponsor my spouse for PR status?"
Answer: Great question! I suspect it does in an informal way. After all, if they are moving to Canada with one parent who is a Canadian citizen, it makes a good case for their other, foreign-born parent, to be allowed to live legally in Canada, doesn't it?
But to be clear, I don't know if there is a direct link between the two and if Immigration Canada includes the status of children when it decides on a PR spousal application approval or not.
Spousal sponsorships and moving your children "back" to Canada when they were born and have lived abroad does raise a lot of questions.
Please take the time to fully research and consider all your options and take prompt action on important first steps such as having the Government of Canada issue proof of citizenship and passports for your children.
If I can be of support for your move to Canada, and for general questions on bringing your foreign-born spouse and children as part of your move, please engage my professional support services.
Please share your learning and experiences, and suggest improvements, so that other Canadians moving back to Canada, and those moving here for the first time, may benefit from your wisdom.
Latest update to this resource: November 2023.