Does IRCC recognize virtual marriages?

Julia Hornstein
Published: July 22, 2022

Since 2015, Canada has not recognized virtual marriages for family class sponsorship. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) states that "if one or both parties are not physically present at the ceremony, we won’t recognize the marriage.” In order to physically present at a marriage ceremony, both parties must participate in the wedding ceremony in person.

Sponsor your family for Canadian immigration

You may only be exempt from this rule if you are in the Canadian Armed Forces. Your marriage may be recognized if:

  • You could not be physically present for your marriage due to travel restrictions related to your service;
  • The marriage took place outside of Canada and;
  • It was registered in a country where marriage by proxy is legal.

Proxy marriage is defined as a marriage where one or both of the participants are not physically present and are represented by another person at the solemnization of the marriage. The Canadian Government decided to prioritize the vulnerability of women in the immigration and forced marriage context in their decision not to recognize marriages by proxy.

Bringing your spouse to Canada

If you have gotten married virtually, it does not mean you are completely out of luck. You can instead sponsor your spouse under a common-law partnership, as long as you meet all eligibility criteria and have been living together for at least 12 consecutive months.

In addition, if you have gotten married virtually and can prove your relationship is genuine, but your situation does not need the definition of common-law partner, humanitarian and compassionate (H&C) considerations may be applied to overcome the rule. H&C is designed to provide flexibility and respond to vulnerable situations and facilitate family unity. In this case, significant compelling circumstances must exist, like the best interests of a child.

If your spouse or partner is unable to apply from inside Canada or does not legally live in Canada at the time of the application, outland sponsorship is likely the only sponsorship option available.

To be eligible to sponsor a spouse or partner under the Outland application category, the sponsor and the sponsored person must be in one of the following types of relationships:

  • spouses, where you are legally married, and your marriage is valid under the law of the jurisdiction where it was registered and under Canadian law;
  • common law, where you are cohabiting or have cohabited with your partner in a marriage-like relationship for at least 12 consecutive months; and
  • conjugal partnership, where you have been in an ongoing and committed relationship for at least 12 months but due to significant factors beyond your control, such as an immigration barrier or marital status, you cannot live together.

In addition, the sponsor and sponsored person must meet the following criteria:

  • The sponsor must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident;
  • The sponsor and the sponsored person must be at least 18 years of age;
  • The sponsor must not have sponsored a spouse in Canada in the five years preceding the application; and
  • The sponsor or sponsored person must not be in prison, charged with a serious offence or bankrupt.

Sponsor your family for Canadian immigration

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