Spousal Sponsorship and Social Assistance

Meurrens LawFamily Class (Spousal Sponsorships, Parents & Grandparents)

Section 133 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (the “Regulations“) prohibits a Canadian citizen or permanent resident from sponsoring a foreign family member (generally a spouse, common-law partner, parent or grandparent) if the 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.

Pursuant to the internal Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC“) e-mails below,  it is important to note that IRCC does not consider subsidized housing to be social assistance.

Section 133(1)(k) of the Regulations explicitly provides 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.

Previous Receipt of Social Assistance

Depending on the circumstances, the previous receipt of social assistance can render a sponsor ineligible.  Section 133(1)(b) of the Regulations provides that a sponsor must intend to fulfil the obligations in the sponsorship undertaking.  In Alriyati v. Canada (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship), 2020 FC 496, Justice Pentney determined that it was reasonable for a visa officer to determine that because someone had been on social assistance for a lengthy period, and only stopped receiving social assistance shortly before submitting a spousal sponsorship application, that the person did not have an intention to fulfil the obligations in the sponsorship undertaking.  Justice Pentney noted:

There is no jurisprudence of this Court on the interpretation of intention under paragraph 133(1)(b). However, decisions interpreting other provisions in IRPA or the Regulations that require an assessment of a person’s intention provide guidance. In Dhaliwal v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2016 FC 131, the case involved an assessment of where an applicant under the federal skilled workers program intended to reside in Canada. Justice Alan Diner found at paragraph 31 that “[t]he assessment of intention, since it is a highly subjective notion, may take into account all indicia, including past conduct, present circumstances, and future plans, as best as can be ascertained from the available evidence and context.”

Similarly, in Wei v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2019 FC 982, which involved a consideration of “ability” and “intent” in regard to the definition of a self-employed person under subsection 88(1) of the Regulations, Justice Peter Annis noted “[i]t is well-known that intention is a mental attribute, and therefore can only be found as a fact by the examination of past external conduct evidence broadly defined, which proves as a likelihood the end or purpose of the conduct” (at para 40; (see also Rabbani v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2020 FC 257).

Financial Inadmissibility

Section 39  of Canada Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (the “Act”) further 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 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.