Canada Announces New Regulations Regarding Spousal, Common-Law, and Conjugal Partner Sponsorship

CIC News
Published: June 15, 2015

The government of Canada has announced that amendments have been made to regulations regarding spousal, common-law, and conjugal partner sponsorship for Canadian immigration. These amendments apply to all permanent and temporary immigration programs.

Minimum age of eligibility

The first is to raise the minimum age of eligibility for spousal or common-law partner sponsorship from 16 to 18 years of age. As of June 10, 2015, individuals applying to immigrate to Canada as a spouse or common-law partner of a Canadian permanent resident or citizen must be at least 18 years old in order to be considered eligible. According to the government of Canada, this new regulation was put in place in an effort to protect women and girls from forced marriages. Recently, the government has been focused on addressing the vulnerability and harassment of women. The hope is that, by raising the minimum age of eligibility, the government can help reduce the number of girls and women who are victimized by these types of marriages.

There are two explicit exceptions to this amendment:

  • Spouses and common-law partners under 18 who are still dependent on their parents: rather than being considered a spouse, these individuals will be considered dependent children and/or de facto family members and can be sponsored as such.
  • Spouses and common-law partners under 18 who are in refugee camps: these individuals can be considered de facto dependents, or may be considered on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Officers will assess these applicants on a case-by-case basis, offering flexibility and sensitivity to vulnerable applicants.

Proxy, telephone, fax, internet, or similar marriages

The second amendment makes proxy, telephone, fax, internet, or similar marriages inadequate for spousal sponsorship. A proxy marriage is one in which either one or both individuals are not physically present at the marriage ceremony. In a proxy marriage, the absent individual(s) must be represented by another person. Telephone, fax, and internet marriages are similar to proxy marriages in that one or both parties are not physically present at the marriage ceremony. In these types of marriages, however, the absent individual(s) participates in the ceremony by telephone, fax, internet, Skype, FaceTime, or a similar form of communication.

This new regulation calls these forms of marriage “excluded relationships”, making them insufficient for spousal or common-law partner sponsorship. Prior to this amendment, any proxy, telephone, fax, or internet marriage was considered acceptable for immigration purposes as long as the marriage was valid in the country in which it took place. It is important to note that, although these forms of marriage were previously accepted for immigration purposes, they are not considered legally valid in Canada. These marriages would have had to have taken place outside Canada. This regulation is meant to protect against the victimization of vulnerable women by decreasing the number of people in forced marriages in Canada. The government of Canada believes that forced marriages are more common with proxy, telephone, fax, and internet marriages because it is more difficult to ensure that both individuals consent to the marriage when one or both are not physically present.

Again, there are exceptions to this amendment:

  • Members of the Canadian Armed Forces: if an individual was not physically present during the marriage ceremony because of travel due to his or her service in the Canadian Armed Forces, the marriage may still be considered valid.
  • Common-law partners: if the marriage is considered an “excluded relationship” but the individual qualifies as a common-law partner, the application will continue to be processed under the relationship status category of common-law partner rather than spouse.
  • Humanitarian and compassionate considerations: in certain cases, if an individual’s safety and/or wellbeing is at risk, officers will be sensitive and flexible with the new regulations.

Five-year sponsorship bar

The third and final amendment was made to the five-year sponsorship bar for persons who were previously sponsored to come to Canada as a spouse or common-law partner. The modification reads as follows:

“A sponsor who became a permanent resident or a Canadian Citizen after being sponsored as a spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner […] may not sponsor a foreign national […] as a spouse, common-law partner, or conjugal partner, unless the sponsor has been a permanent resident, or a Canadian Citizen, or a combination of the two, for a period of at least five years immediately preceding the day on which a sponsorship application […] is filed by the sponsor in respect of the foreign national.”


Since these amendments came into force on June 10, 2015, they apply only to applications received on or after this date, whereas applications received prior to June 10 will be processed under the previous regulations.

The reaction

“Changes to the spousal and common-law partner sponsorship program come as no great surprise, as they go hand-in-hand with Canada’s recent focus on addressing the vulnerability and victimization of girls and women,” says Attorney David Cohen.

“The spousal sponsorship application process is perhaps more thorough than ever, however, and applicants would be well advised to plan their applications meticulously and ensure that the submitted application is complete and accurate.”


To find out if you are eligible for spousal, common-law, or conjugal partner sponsorship, please fill out a free online assessment today

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