Reuniting more spouses and partners


Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has been looking to find solutions to improve service to clients and reduce the uncertainty for Canadian citizens and permanent residents and for their spouses and partners who are being sponsored for permanent residence.

High demand led to longer processing times

Each year, the Government sets how many permanent residents Canada intends to admit through its various immigration categories for the following year. This is done through the immigration levels plan, tabled annually in Parliament.

Over time, more people have applied to sponsor their spouse or partner than there has been room in this category of the immigration levels plan. This resulted in a backlog of applications. In 2015 alone, nearly 70 000 applicants applied through spousal sponsorship but there was only space for 48 000 people to be admitted to Canada that year. This led to a longer wait for applicants and processing times increased.

Spousal applications can be made from outside Canada, as members of the family class, or within Canada, as members of the spouse or common-law partner in-Canada class. At the start of 2016, processing times were an average of 26 months for in-Canada applications, and 18 months for applications made outside Canada. The Government of Canada is committed to bringing down these processing times.

Faster processing times

The Government of Canada has taken a number of steps to help improve processing for spousal sponsorship applicants over the past year:

  1. Welcoming more spouses, partners and dependent children to Canada;
  2. Increasing funding to bring down the backlog and reduce processing times;
  3. Improving the application process for clients; and
  4. Meeting a shorter processing commitment: 12 months for existing and new applicants.

a) Welcoming more spouses, partners and dependent children to Canada

For 2016, the Government of Canada increased the number of spaces in the annual immigration levels plan. This allows for 12 000 more spouses, partners and dependent children to be admitted to Canada, compared to the previous year, for a target of 60 000 admissions. Historically the levels target was an average of 47 000. The target was increased to 64 000 admissions for 2017. Higher levels means more applications can be approved, bringing down the backlog and processing times and reuniting families faster.

b) Increasing funding to bring down the backlog and reduce processing times

IRCC has been steadily working to reduce the wait for spousal sponsorship.

Through Budget 2016, the Government invested $25 million to allow IRCC to direct and focus resources to help significantly reduce the backlog and processing times.

At the direction of the Minister, the Department began concerted efforts to reduce this backlog this summer. The number of cases processed per month doubled and the pre-June backlog was reduced by more than 26 percent.

c) Improving the application process for clients

IRCC has been working to improve the application process by making it easier to use and understand.

On December 15, 2016, at noon (12:00 p.m.), Eastern Standard Time, a new application kit will be posted on IRCC’s website. A new application kit will replace the current ones.

Also starting December 15, 2016, applicants using the new kit will need to include all the documents required and listed on the checklist. Incomplete applications will be returned. This new requirement will make more efficient and timely processing possible.

For more information on these changes, view the backgrounder:
Improvements to spousal sponsorship process: The New Application Kit

d) Meeting a shorter processing commitment: 12 months for existing and new applications

IRCC will process about 80 percent of applications that are currently in the system within the next 12 months, which means by the end of December 2017. Additionally, approximately 80 percent of new applications will be processed within 12 months from the day they are received by IRCC. This will apply to all applicants, whether they are in the outside Canada family class or the spouse or common-law partner in-Canada class. More than 64 000 applicants will benefit in the first year.

About 20 percent of applications will likely take longer to process than 12 months. Some applications take longer to process for various reasons, such as the time it takes for an applicant to respond to requests for information, the need for criminality, security and medical screening, and the complexity of the application.

The new 12-month processing commitment does not mean that all applicants who are currently in the backlog will have to wait an additional 12 months to have their applications finalized. Files will continue to be processed in the order they were received.

IRCC’s ability to meet this objective depends on the cooperation of clients. Any requests for information from IRCC, whether for an existing applicant or for a new applicant, should be provided within the given timeframe.

For a general look at processing times, view this graphic.

Along with the new 12-month processing commitment, IRCC will extend its pilot program which gives open work permits to eligible spouses or partners who are being sponsored and are in Canada, giving them the freedom to work while their applications for permanent residence are being processed. This pilot program ensures applicants are able to work, provide for their families and contribute to the Canadian economy while waiting for their applications to be processed. The pilot, currently slated to end on December 22, 2016, will be extended until December 21, 2017.

Maintaining program integrity and combatting marriage fraud

Maintaining program integrity, balanced with welcoming newcomers, is at the forefront of IRCC’s work. All applications will continue to receive full criminality, security and medical screening.

The Department takes marriage fraud seriously and has mechanisms in place to detect and address it. IRCC focuses on detecting marriage fraud at the visa application stage and relies on the experience and expertise of its officers to detect possible marriage fraud. If evidence is obtained during the sponsorship process that the marriage is one of convenience, the application for permanent residence will be refused.

In cases where sufficient information is obtained that an individual is involved in a fraudulent marriage after they have obtained permanent resident status, IRCC and the Canada Border Services Agency may investigate, which could result in the loss of permanent resident status for the sponsored individual or the sponsor, if the sponsor is a permanent resident and was a willing participant in the fraud.

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