Last Updated on April 28, 2015 by Steven Meurrens

One of the questions that we are most frequently asked is which family members can be sponsored under Canada’s family reunification programs.  Most people rightly assume that Canadian citizens and/or permanent residents can sponsor their spouses, children, and parents.  However, many also wonder about sponsoring siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, etc.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, SOR/2002-227 (“IRPR“), provide that a Canadian citizen / permanent resident (the “Sponsor“) may sponsor the Sponsor’s spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner.  A “spouse” is the Sponsor’s husband or wife.  A “common-law partner” is someone who the Sponsor has cohabited with in a conjugal relationship for a period of at least one year. A “conjugal partner” is someone who the Sponsor has been in a conjugal relationship with for a period of at least one year, but who for exceptional circumstances the Sponsor has neither been able to marry nor cohabit with.  It most commonly applies to same-sex relationships where the couple is unable to cohabit or marry due to fear of persecution or penal control.

IRPR also provides that a Sponsor may sponsor the Sponsor’s dependent child.  A “dependent child” is a child who is the biological or adopted child of the Sponsor, and who is under the age of 19 and is not married or in a common-law partnership.  If the child is over 19, then the child must have depended substantially on the financial support of the parent since before the age of 19, and be unable to be financially self-supporting due to a physical or mental condition.

A Sponsor may also sponsor his/her mother, father, grandfather, or grandmother.

While the above three scenarios are commonly well known, there are other family relationships that are eligible for sponsorship.

IRPR provides that a Sponsor may sponsor an orphaned relative under the age of 18.  To be eligible, the orphan’s father and mother must both be deceased. The orphan must also be the Sponsor’s brother, sister, nephew, niece, grandson, or granddaughter, and be unmarried and not in a common-law partnership. In Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Cisnadothe Federal Court affirmed that the requirement is that any  “identified or identifiable parent” be deceased.  In other words, in scenarios where someone’s biological father (for example) abandoned a child at birth, the orphan does not have to prove that his de facto non-existent father is deceased.

A Sponsor may also sponsor a prospective adoptive child who is under the age of 18 if the adoption is genuine and in compliance with international conventions.

Finally, IRPR provides that a Sponsor may sponsor a relative of the Sponsor, regardless of age, if the Sponsor does not have a living spouse, common-law partner, conjugal partner, child, mother or father.  As well, the Sponsor cannot have any relatives who are Canadian citizens, or whose applications to enter and remain in Canada the Sponsor may otherwise sponsor.

[UPDATE – April 28, 2016]

The Liberal Government of Canada has promised to increase the age of dependency from 18 to 22. Specifically, Prime Minister Trudeau’s Mandate Letter to Minister McCallum states:


It is unclear whether this will also re-introduce a previous exemption which provided that people over 22 were dependants if they had been engaged in continuous full-time studies since turning 22. As a result of numerous Federal Court decisions, see especially Dimonekene v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2007 FC 675, and Singh Gill v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2008 FC 365, IRCC interpreted this exception rather flexibly, although as the Federal Court recently affirmed in Pinamang v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), an almost 10 year maternity leave would not count towards a reasonable break in continuous studies.