As close culturally as Canada and the USA are, and as easy as it is for an American to adapt to Canadian life, it seems that Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) wants your American spouse to wait in their home country – that would be the USA – until your sponsorship application is approved. A letter obtained by the Toronto Star from CIC Minister Chris Alexander states that “it is always in the client’s best interest to apply abroad.” [The article was removed from The Star's website as of December 2019.] So the choice between what is called an inland application – sponsoring a spouse or common-law partner who is already in Canada on a temporary visa – and an ‘overseas’ application – sponsoring a partner who remains in the USA with or without you – seems stacked towards the ‘overseas’ option.
Assuming your American partner has a job at home in the USA – sponsoring an unemployed foreign spouse has very little chance of success nowadays – and assuming they have some sort of health coverage in the USA, it only makes economic sense for them to apply from the US. This is because while your application is being processed, your spouse will not be eligible for health care benefits if he or she is living in Canada with you. Nor will they be able to work unless they are able to get a temporary work permit. That means you, the sponsor, will have to pay for their health coverage, and all their other expenses until your sponsorship application is approved in principle and then confirmed, and they obtain permanent residence status. For most working couples, that is a heavy financial burden that can eat up whatever savings they have, or land them with a second mortgage. But it does mean you are together and not separated from each other for the year or so – or even substantially longer – that the application process takes. The overseas option means your partner keeps his or her job and health coverage while you wait in Canada. Of course, if you are able to live and work in the USA while your sponsorship application is being processed, then this option is far more appealing. But the trade-off between love and work, and even health coverage, now applies to most Canadian-American couples seeking sponsorship.
Inland or Bust
Despite the above cautions, if you decide it is more than worth it to apply inland, you need to prepare as best you can to ensure your partner’s time in Canada awaiting approval of the application is as productive as possible. This will depend to a large degree on how your American partner arrived in Canada. Here are several ways your partner can come to Canada without you:
- Temporary Work Permit: Your partner will need a job offer from a Canadian employer and will need to apply for a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) unless the employer hires your partner through the International Mobility Program in which case they will need a work permit but not an LMIA. If your partner is fortunate to enter Canada on such a permit, they will be able to work while you the application is being processed. If necessary, they may have to apply to have the work permit renewed, should your sponsorship application take longer than expected. This is done by submitting an application for extension before the permit expires.
- Study Permit: If your partner is accepted at a Canadian Institution like a University or Community College, they must then apply for a study permit. As an American, your partner will not need a visa to study or work in Canada, although they will require a study or work permit approved and issued by CIC. Having studied in Canada, especially in a needed-skill area, is generally quite helpful in order to gain PR status if the sponsorship route doesn’t work out
- Tourist: This one is the trickiest, seeing your partner is merely visiting Canada as a tourist. To go from being a US tourist in Canada to applying for an in-Canada spousal sponsorship can be a long and frustrating process, as we outlined above, where your US partner is unable to work and is not eligible for health care in Canada, unless it is paid for out-of-pocket or through private insurance.
If you have been married or living in a common-law or conjugal relationship for less than 2 years, and have no children in common, then you will be subject to a period of Conditional Permanent Residence. This means that you must co-habit with your conjugal partner for 2 years from the day on which your US partner receives his or her Permanent Residence. While the good news is that your US partner has their PR Card and can work and study and receive the full benefits due to a citizen of Canada, you are under a further obligation as a couple to the authorities for another 2 years.
Next, to sponsor your US partner means you are signing a contract, or undertaking, where you are obligated legally to support them and any dependent children financially as well as provide for their basic requirements. To qualify as a sponsor you must:
- Be 18 or older.
- Live in Canada and continue to live in Canada after your partner receives PR status.
- Be a Canadian citizen or Permanent Resident.
- Sign an agreement with your spouse where each states they understand the other’s responsibilities and obligations.
- Sign an undertaking as mentioned above.
- If your partner’s dependent children have dependent children themselves you will have to prove you have the financial resources and income to support them.
Please note that any of the following conditions will disqualify you as a sponsor:
- You have signed an undertaking for a previous spouse and less than 3 years have elapsed since your previous spouse became a permanent resident.
- You are in default of:
- An undertaking.
- An immigration loan.
- A performance bond.
- Family support payments.
- You are an undischarged bankrupt who has not been granted a discharge by a court.
- You were convicted of a sexual offence or a violent crime offence.
- You were previously sponsored as a spouse or common-law or conjugal partner and became a permanent resident less than 5 years ago.
- You are under a removal order.
- You are in jail.
- You have already applied to sponsor a spouse and a decision has not yet been made on your previous application to sponsor.
Your first step is to gather all the documents needed. For you the sponsor you will need to show:
- If you are a Canadian citizen: photocopies of a Canadian birth certificate, or both sides of a Certificate of Canadian Citizenship, or both sides of your Certificate of Registration of Birth Abroad. You will also need a valid passport or travel document showing the pages of your passport that show your passport number, the issue and expiry dates, your photo, and your full name and date of birth.
- If you are a Permanent Resident: photocopies of both sides of your Permanent Resident Card, or Record of Landing, or Confirmation of Permanent Residence.
For your American partner - the principal applicant: photocopies of their passport with full name, date of birth, issue and expiry dates, and the travel stamp of their most recent entry into Canada showing, photocopies of the travel document showing their acceptance into Canada (study permit, work permit, temporary residence permit, or other document that shows they have legal status in Canada), photocopies of birth certificates, photocopies of custody papers and adoption papers for their dependent children, copies of police certificates from all countries where you have lived for more than 6 months since turning 18. Your partner must also provide photos not more than 6 months old and if your partner is a Permanent Resident of the US, copies of both sides of their Green Card (United States Alien Registration Card).
For both you the sponsor, and your US partner the applicant:
- If married: copies of the marriage certificate and copies of photos of the wedding ceremony.
- If you the sponsor have been previously married: copies of any one of the following: divorce decree, annulment certificate, separation papers, or death certificate.
- If in a common-law relationship: copies of joint bank account or credit card statements, joint leases, joint line of credit statements, jointly signed lease or mortgage papers, statutory declarations from those persons with the knowledge that the relationship is genuine and continuing.
- If you were in a previous common-law relationship: copies of declaration of severance of common law relationship.
Any document not in English or French must be accompanied by a translation into either language as well as an affidavit from the translator and a certified copy of the original document. Not likely but still possible if your US partner was born elsewhere for example.
Your partner and any dependent children will have to complete a medical examination in order to become permanent residents, unless the children are Canadian citizens. They may consult a Panel Physician for an upfront medical exam or wait until the application is reviewed and your partner is given instructions on where to take the medical examination.
Your next step is filling out the forms required. Go here for a list of all the necessary forms as well as a guide to filling them out. Next you must pay the corresponding fees. Go here to calculate the fees. If you also pay the Right of Permanent Residence Fee – which is due when your application is accepted – beforehand with your other fees your application process will go faster. Dependent children are exempt from this fee. It is best if unsure to overpay your fees as underpaying will result in your application being returned. If you do overpay, CIC will send you a refund as soon as they can. You can pay online or at a Canadian financial institution. Online is the preferred method. Go here for more information on online payment. Remember to include the receipt in your application: either the one you print from your online payment or if paying at a financial institution, Form IMM 5401 – the original pink and white copy, not a photocopy. Go here to order a Form IMM 5401.
'Overseas' from the USA
If you decide on the overseas path, then the basic steps involved in the application process as outlined above for inland applications are similar. If you decide to live with your partner in the USA, you can still sponsor them to Canada but you will have to demonstrate that you intend to live in Canada when he or she becomes a permanent resident. Go here for more information on filling out the required forms. Go here for information on fees. Please note that you may pay the fees by bank draft or money order when paying from abroad, (from the USA in this case), subject to the following:
- It is payable to the Receiver General for Canada.
- It is in Canadian funds (Canadian dollars).
- It must be cashable through a Canadian financial institution.
- It must display the name, address, and account number of the Canadian financial institution where it may be cashed.
You must then mail your application, with all documents and completed forms as well as a receipt for fees paid and the bar code page as well to the case processing centre in Mississauga, Ontario. Go here for the address and other information on sending in the application. Your application will be reviewed by CIC and you will be informed of the results by letter. Good luck!