Updates to family reunification policies will benefit new applicants - Immigration Lawyer Vancouver, Canada | Sas & Ing Immigration Law Centre

BlogUpdates to family reunification policies will benefit new applicants

24 October 2023

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At our immigration law office we frequently consult with clients about spousal sponsorships, which involves an application by a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor their spouse or common-law partner for permanent residence in Canada. These applications are quite commonplace and represent a large proportion of approvals each year. To illustrate, in 2021 over 69,000 foreign nationals were admitted to Canada as permanent residents under a spousal sponsorship and this represented about 17% of the total admissions approved for the entire year. Though spousal sponsorships generally have a high success rate, the application process is often confusing to clients because there are two separate streams: the Family Class and the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class (SCLPC). While these streams used to differ quite significantly from each other, new changes announced in May 2023 have eliminated many of the traditional differences. Here is what you need to know!

The traditional distinction between the Family Class and the SCLPC concerned the location of the main applicant for permanent residence. Those who resided outside Canada would traditionally apply under the Family Class and would not come to Canada until their application was approved. Those who resided in Canada would apply under the SCLPC and would be expected to live with their sponsor until processing was complete. This might apply, for instance, to international students, foreign workers, and even visitors to Canada.

This distinction resulted in practical consequences for applicants. For example, Family Class and SCLPC applications used to have noticeably different processing times – SCLPC applications tended to have longer processing times because there was less pressure to finalize the application since both spouses were already living together in Canada. On the other hand, since SCLPC applicants were already living in Canada they have the option of applying for an open work permit that allows them to legally work while waiting for their permanent resident status to be approved. This helped reduce the financial burden on the family, as both spouses could financially contribute to household and other expenses, and it also allowed the applicant spouse to participate in the labour market right away instead of waiting to find work only after receiving an approval for permanent residence. For these reasons, the SCLPC was often considered the better stream because the applicant spouse could remain in Canada with their Canadian citizen or permanent resident sponsor and legally work during the processing period.

To take advantage of the SCLPC, many overseas spouses chose to apply for temporary visas to come to Canada to work, study or visit, with the intention that they will file their permanent residence application after arrival in Canada. Unfortunately, their marital status always proved to be a complicating factor.

Immigration visa officers are trained to refuse temporary visa applications if there is reason to believe that the applicant will not depart Canada when their temporary status ends, and having a spouse living in Canada makes it highly likely that the person will want to stay in Canada regardless of status. The same concern would arise if a couple were not yet married but wanted to get married in Canada – a visa officer would be skeptical that the purpose of the visit to Canada was solely to get married and to celebrate the nuptials with friends and family and that the overseas spouse would later depart Canada. This led to many refusals of overseas applications and it often felt unfair to applicants who are from countries that require visas to travel to Canada. Why should they have to justify their trip to Canada when others from the United States or other visa-exempt countries could travel to Canada with little to no scrutiny?

Changes announced on May 26, 2023 have closed the gap between the Family Class and the SCLPC and now make it more equitable for applicants from visa-required countries. Specifically, former Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Sean Fraser, announced several new measures that make it easier for Family Class applicants to start a life in Canada, including:

  • Expedited processing times for visitor visa applications made by spouses living overseas to come to Canada;
  • A more relaxed approach to visa processing to ensure that families can reunite sooner in Canada while their spousal sponsorship application is processing; and
  • An open work permit option for Family Class applicants who have arrived in Canada as visitors to allow them to enter the Canadian labour force as soon as receipt of their permanent residence application is acknowledged.

Collectively, these changes ensure that all spousal sponsorship applicants are treated as equally as possible. Regardless of their country of nationality, spousal applicants should be able to come to Canada to reunite with their Canadian citizen or permanent resident spouse and be allowed to work during the processing of their application.  

Family reunification has long been a cornerstone of Canadian immigration law. As the former Minister stated in the May 2023 announcement, family reunification is a matter of compassion and there are no good reasons to keep families separated while their application is under processing or to deny spouses the ability to enter the Canadian labour market before an approval is granted. Allowing spouses to work can only serve to maximize their contributions to our economy and fast-track their integration into Canadian society over the long run. The May 2023 announcement represents a significant commitment to family reunification and gives hope to spouses living overseas that they can start their new life in Canada sooner than previously thought. Those interested in filing a spousal sponsorship application for permanent residence from overseas should review these measures and determine whether they can benefit from them.

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