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 due to economic conditions where they are living, safety, or simply to have their spouse and children experience life in Canada.
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 to return before applying for a PR, with your spouse arriving on a visitor visa in Canada (if they are granted one). You then sponsor your spouse immediately after you arrive.
If you return to Canada first, and then apply to sponsor your spouse, they can also apply for a 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:
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: "How long does the Permanent Resident sponsorship process take?"
Answer: Preparing for the application can take 1-3 months. The current processing period as of the latest update to this page (November 2019) is about 6-8 months, though the Canadian government's web site still shows 1 year. So a total of 7-10 months can be expected from the beginning of preparing your application to receiving a decision by the government.
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. However, please do hire a full immigration lawyer if you have a complicated, 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 one! Whenever there are important legal boundaries to cross that people are eager to get through there are predators and parasites who want to prey on desire and fear.
The watering hole in the savanna of Africa has lions and hyenas circling, waiting for thirsty and sometimes desperate prey. Don't let that "prey" be you!
The literal and metaphorical border of Canada is another focal point. 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 really works. 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 RCIC: Like with any professional, check their credentials, find out how long they have been doing this work, ask for referrals to a good one from others who have used such services, and start a conversation with one to be sure you feel comfortable working with them. A good RCIC can support your PR application needs regardless of where they are or to which province you are moving to in Canada.
I can recommend two great RCIC's. Both are very experienced, very good to work with, and both of very high integrity. Many of my clients use their services: Marianne van der Meij and Paul Abraham. (Professionals page of this site) I get no commission or other benefit from recommending them, so you can trust these are good referrals.
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 send 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 about a month to get the Canadian Government to acknowledge receipt and that they have begun to processing. This can be an anxious month, I know! If you haven't heard anything after 7-8 weeks 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 with your specific application. They can review everything you submitted (assuming you kept a copy of what you submitted).
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 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.
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. 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 until you have the physical PR card in-hand. Some of my clients are experiencing travel complications in this gap of time. As of the latest update to this page, 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 long 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. This avoids any question by Immigration Canada as to whether you seriously want to live in Canada or not.
Plan to do your PR application yourself and need some general contextual help?
I support clients with general questions for 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 the 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 you were born in Canada then your children are automatically Canadian citizens!
The not so good news:
If you, the parent, were not born in Canada, but received a Canadian citizenship either from your Canadian parent or from being naturalized as a Canadian, your children are not automatically Canadian citizens. When you move back you will have to sponsor them to bring them to Canada with you.
The slightly more complicated news:
If you *were* born in Canada, which most returning Canadians are, you have 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 at this time (notes 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.
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 the process started many months in advance.
If you are in a really urgent and time-sensitive situation, there is an option to apply for a rush processing, which can take 2-3 weeks. However the criteria are pretty clear: It must be a real need for 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 (dual citizens MUST have a Canadian passport), and they will have a form of Canadian primary photo identification when they arrive in Canada. Get their passports immediately and at the same time, if you can, when you apply for your children's 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 full research and consider all your options and take 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. I will be pleased to help!
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 2019.