How to immigrate to Canada as a couple

Julia Hornstein
Published: December 3, 2023

Whether you are engaged, married or in a common law relationship, Canada offers various immigration programs that cater to couples.

Spousal sponsorship

One of the most efficient ways to get Canada as a couple is to through spousal sponsorship. This is the best option if you already have a spouse or partner living in Canada or your spouse or partner is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

If your spouse is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, they may sponsor you to join them in Canada and become a permanent resident, as long as your spouse meet certain eligibility criteria.

Sponsor your family for Canadian immigration

In order to sponsor a spouse or partner, the sponsor must be:

  • At least 18 years of age
  • A Canadian permanent resident living in Canada or a Canadian citizen
  • Not be in prison, bankrupt, under a removal order (if a permanent resident) or charged with a serious offence; and
  • Not have been sponsored to Canada as a spouse within the last 5 years

You and your sponsor must also prove your relationship, which must fall under one of three categories:

  • Spouse: you are legally married. If the marriage took place within Canada, a Certificate of Marriage from the province or territory is sufficient to prove that the marriage is valid. If the marriage took place outside Canada, it must be valid under the laws of that country and as well as under Canadian federal law.
  • Common law partner: you cohabit continuously for at least one year.
  • Conjugal partner: a sponsored person may be defined as a conjugal partner if exceptional circumstances beyond their control has prevented the partners from qualifying as common law partners or spouses, such as immigration barriers or legal restrictions limited divorce or same sex relationships. Furthermore, the partners must be in a mutually dependent relationship for a least one years with the same level of commitment as a marriage or common law partnership. This can be demonstrated through emotional ties, intimacy, financial closeness such as joint ownership of assets and efforts to spend time together and reunite.

Express Entry

Express Entry is the federal government’s management system of three main immigration programs: the Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP), the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).

If you wish to apply for Canadian permanent residency as a couple through Express Entry, you can do so in one of two ways:

  • Either the main applicant lists the spouse, common law partner or conjugal partner as a dependent, or
  • They can be named as a secondary applicant

It is important to note that you may only have dependents when applying to the FSWP and the FSTP, as the CEC does not allow dependents on applications.

When you declare your spouse or partner as a dependant in your application, you are the primary applicant and must provide proof of enough settlement funds. You must meet the proof of funds requirement in order to prove that you can financially support yourself and your dependents in Canada.

However, when your spouse or partner is a dependent on your application, your partner’s profile will not be taken into consideration when calculating your overall Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) score. The CRS score is used to rank candidates based on criteria like age, education, language skills and work experience. Candidates with the highest CRS scores are invited to apply for permanent residence in Express Entry draws.

If you spouse would qualify for Express Entry, they can apply as a secondary applicant. Each spouse would create their own Express Entry profile and include their spouse in their profile. This means you can claim an extra 40 CRS points for your partners profile when submitting your own application.

This method still requires applicants to prove proof of funds. However, it works differently because your partner is seen as a contributor to the program.

It is important to consider which partner has the strongest profile before applying to name that person as the main applicant. If your partner scores highly on CRS factors like language, level of education, etc., it’s worth listing them as a secondary applicant. If they would score poorly, it might make more sense to list them as a dependent instead.

Provincial Nominee Program

The Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) is another great option for moving to Canada as a couple. Nearly every province and territory operates the PNP to welcome skilled workers to their respective regions.

When applying for the PNP, the partner with the strongest work experience, education, etc. should apply as the main immigration candidate. If this is you, you would declare your spouse or partner as a dependent on the application.

As the main applicant, such as with Express Entry, you would need to provide evidence of sufficient funds to settle in Canada.

Alternatively, if both you and your spouse or partner are eligible, you may both apply separately to immigration programs and withdraw from one when you receive an invitation to apply (ITA) is issued.

Open Work Permit for spouses

Spouses and partners of Canadian citizens or permanent residents can get an open work permit while their sponsorship application for permanent residence is being processed.

This way, sponsored individuals can work for any employer of their choice in Canada so they can support themselves and their family financially during the immigration application process.

In order to be considered for an open work permit, the foreign national must:

  • Be a principal applicant who has submitted a permanent residence application under the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class; or, as a spouse, common-law or conjugal partner under the family class that has been accepted for processing by IRCC after meeting a completeness check, and that has not been refused or withdrawn.
  • Have submitted a work permit application where the duration of the work permit requested is for a maximum of two years
  • Is the subject of a sponsorship application submitted by their Canadian citizen or permanent resident spouse, common-law or conjugal partner
  • Have the same residential address as their sponsor in Canada at the time of the application
  • Have a valid temporary resident status in Canada or is eligible for and has applied for the restoration of their status
  • The applicant and the sponsor must meet all eligibility requirements under spousal or common-law partner sponsorship

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