Spousal Sponsorship and Social Assistance

Photo by George Vnoucek

Section 133 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (the “Regulations“) prohibit a Canadian citizen or permanent resident from sponsoring a foreign family member (generally a spouse, common-law partner, parent or grandparent) if that Canadian is in receipt of social assistance for a reason other than a disability.

The Regulations define social assistance as being any benefit, whether money, goods or services, provided to or on behalf of a person by a province under a program of social assistance. It includes assistance for food, shelter, clothing, fuel, utilities, household supplies, personal requirements and health care not provided by public health care.

Section 133(1)(k) of the Regulations do provide that a person can still sponsor a foreign family member to immigrate to Canada if the sponsor receives the social assistance because of a disability.

Financial Inadmissibility

However, s. 39 of Canada Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides that a foreign national is inadmissible for financial reasons if they are or will be unable or unwilling to support themselves or any other person who is dependent on them, and have not satisfied a visa officer that adequate arrangements for care and support, other than those that involve social assistance, have been made.

As such, even if a Canadian sponsor is no longer receiving social assistance, or is receiving social assistance because of a disability, they still might be ultimately unable to sponsor their family member to immigrate to Canada.

Minimum Necessary Income

Unlike with the sponsorship of most foreign family members the Regulations provide that there is no minimum necessary income requirement to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner.

However, it is important given s. 39 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that people submitting applications under to sponsor their spouses or common-law partners under either the Family Class or the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class ensure that they do not raise any flags regarding a possible financial inadmissibility.

For example, if a Canadian sponsor’s income was below Statistics Canada’s low-income cutoff, then the foreign national should take seriously the question of what their intended occupation will be after they immigrate.   

As well, although it is not typically mandatory in a spousal or common-law partnership application, if the foreign national is the principle breadwinner in the family then they should indicate this in the application, and provide proof of the foreign spouse’s or common-law partner’s earnings.

Examples of Financial Inadmissibility

Elayathamby Rasu v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) is a good example of how financial inadmissibility can work. There, the Canadian sponsor in the years leading up to the sponsorship of his wife earned around an average of $10,000.00 per year. In her application form, her wife, who spoke neither English or French, stated that she planned on being a housewife after she immigrated.  The visa office refused their application, a decision which the Immigration Appeal Division upheld.

Another impediment for Canadians whose income is well below to Statistics Canada’s low income cutoff for a region is where their foreign family members do not speak English or French and where their credentials may not be recognized in Canada. In Cheung v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration)a Canadian sponsor tried to argue to the Immigration Appeal Division that his wife, who was a nurse in her country of origin, had transferrable skills. However, the Immigration Appeal Division noted that her lack of English and the fact that it was not clear that she could actually work as a nurse in Canada meant that it was not clear that the family would not need social assistance.

Finally, as the Immigration Appeal Division noted in Phuoc v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration)it is open to immigration authorities to not consider, or at least give very weight to, evidence of Canadian income which has not been declared to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Other Disqualifications

Other things that can disqualify an otherwise eligible sponsor from sponsoring someone include:

  • The sponsor being subject to a removal order;
  • The sponsor being detained in any penitentiary, jail, reformatory, or prison;
  • The sponsor have previously been convicted of a specified offence (such as a sexual offense);
  • The sponsor being in default of spousal or child support payments;
  • The sponsor being in default of a debt owed under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act;
  • The sponsor being an undischarged bankrupt;
  • The sponsor being in receipt of social assistance other than for reasons of a disability; and
  • The sponsor being in default of a of a previous sponsorship undertaking.

Humanitarian & Compassionate

A family that might not be able to reunify in Canada, either because the Canadian receives social assistance or because there is a probability that they will be found to be financially inadmissible to Canada, should not give up.

As with all immigration applications, it is possible that there could be sufficient humanitarian & compassionate factors to supersede the inadmissibility.

The Parent & Grandparent Sponsorship Program

With the incoming Liberal government of Canada promising to double the number of applications in the Parent & Grandparent Sponsorship Program (the “PGSP“) there will likely be renewed interest in the program.

Under the PGSP, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their foreign national parents and grandparents.  Sponsors must sign an undertaking with the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration (“CIC“) or with the Ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion for those in Quebec.  The undertaking ensures that the sponsored individuals and their family members do not have to apply for social assistance. The length of undertaking in the PGSP is 20 years.

As per the CIC website, sponsors must:

  • be 18 years of age or older;
  • be a Canadian citizen, Registered Indian or permanent resident;
  • be sponsoring their parents or grandparents;
  • live in Canada;
  • sign an undertaking promising to provide for the basic requirements of the person being sponsored;
  • sign an agreement with the person theyare sponsoring; and
  • prove that they have sufficient income.  Co-signers are permissible.

In 2015, the minimum income requirements were.

Federal Income Table for Parents and Grandparents Sponsorship
Size of Family Unit Minimum Income
Minimum Income
Minimum Income
2 persons $37,708 $36,637  $35,976
3 persons $46,354 $45,040  $44,229
4 persons $56,280 $54,685  $53,699
5 persons $63,833 $62,023  $60,905
6 persons $71,991 $69,950  $68,689
7 persons $80,153 $77,879  $76,475
If more than 7 persons, for each additional person, add $8,148 $7,929  $ 7,786

Excluded from these amounts include, amongst other things, any amounts paid to the sponsor under the Employment Insurance Act, other than special benefits.

A Canadian citizen or permanent resident cannot be a sponsor if they:

  • are in receipt of social assistance for a reason other than disability;
  • are in default of an undertaking, an immigration loan, a performance bond, or family support payments;
  • are an undischarged bankrupt;
  • were convicted of an offence of a sexual nature, a violent criminal offence, an offence against a relative that results in bodily harm or an attempt or threat to commit any such offences—depending on circumstances such as the nature of the offence, how long ago it occurred and whether a pardon was issued;
  • are under a removal order; or
  • are detained in a penitentiary, jail, reformatory or prison.

Additional information on the PGSP can be found in the CIC internal processing instructions below.  Please note that these instructions were obtained through an Access to Information Act request, and their reproduction has not occurred with the affiliation of the federal government.  As well, they are current as of February 2014, although except for the minimum necessary income requirements were substantially accurate for 2015 as well.  The instructions include the following topics:

  • Duration of Undertakings
  • Co-Signers
  • Eligible Applicants and Dependants
  • Ineligible Dependants
  • Document Requirements
  • Document Deficiencies
  • Lock-in Dates
  • Visa Office Destination
  • Quebec Cases
  • Switching Principal Applicants
  • Settlement Arrangements
  • Calculating the Size of the Family Unit
  • Financial Assessment
  • Ineligible Types of Income
  • Notice of Assessment
  • Reassessments
  • Referrals to the Special Unit