What are steps for an overseas marital sponsorship application?
How long does it take?
These are questions I get asked very frequently. The procedures on marital spousal sponsorships are indicated on the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website. However, the information is of general nature, and once the process is in place, applicants and sponsors can easily be confused as to what are the steps left to finalize the application and have their partner finally travel to Canada.
Do you qualify to apply?
The first aspect I look at as a lawyer before starting a spousal sponsorship application is to determine whether you and your partner are in a real, committed and long term relationship. We must then demonstrate that as a couple, you are eligible to apply. You have to be married, in a common law relationship (living together for at least one year) or be conjugal partners.
Does the sponsor meet the eligibility requirement?
Then, the sponsor has to meet the eligibility criteria, such as not be bankrupt, not be on welfare, not be in default of any spousal or child support and finally, not have been convicted of any crimes of violent nature against a family member. To determine all of these, a series of questions is asked during the consultation.
As for the applicant – she or he must not be inadmissible to Canada for criminality, misrepresentation or financial issues. In the event of inadmissibility, these applicants may still be able to be sponsored by their spouses, but the application must clearly address these issues and have the required special requests.
If the sponsor were herself/himself sponsored to Canada, then she/he would not be able to sponsor a spouse for 5 years.
List of documents
Once all these eligibility criteria have been addressed, we can move on to preparing the overseas spousal sponsorship application. Once you hire us as your immigration lawyer, we will provide you with a list of documents and specific instructions to start preparing the application. The Citizenship and Immigration Canada website provides with the minimum documentation to be submitted. As lawyers having submitted thousands of files, we know that these documents are not sufficient and could easily result in the refusal of your application or cause long delays.
For this, we have prepared, over the years, a very accurate and detailed list of documents which will reflect the relationship of the couple and the reasons why the application should be approved. An overseas spousal sponsorship is not about only filling up forms and providing a marriage certificate as well as a couple of pictures. There is much more that comes into play when preparing an adequate and complete application.
The specific documents we submit will contain accurate information which will assist the immigration officer reviewing your application in making an affirmative determination. These immigration officers assess hundreds of cases every month, and it is crucial to prepare the application in a way which will shed light on the particular facts of your love story. You and your partner are not simply a file number but real people, with real feelings, emotions and ambitions. Many officers often forget this and systematically refuse incomplete or thin applications.
Forms and Questionnaire
Once the documents are submitted to our office, we will then ask you to complete a questionnaire about the details of your relationship, from the first moment you met, your fist kiss, to dating and to either the proposal and marriage or the permanent cohabitation as well as your future plans as a couple. We ask you these questions because as lawyers when we submit any application, we include at the top of the package what we call in legal terms a “submission letter” (cover letter). This submission letter is usually about 4-6 pages and outlines in details how your relationship with your partner came to be, why you fell in love and why you have decided to proceed with the sponsorship. If your story contains some specifics issues or facts, it will be important to include these in the submission letter by providing a detailed explanation. This will allow the officer to fully understand the story and avoid back and forth questions or requirements of documents by the Canadian Embassy. For example, if there were criminal charges or convictions, divorces, previous applications, and refusals if the sponsor is currently living abroad etc. These are all matters which should be addressed in the submission letter with complete explanations.
How will we know as lawyers what extra information to include in the submission? We will know following our initial consultation as we would have obtained all of the background information which will allow us to categorize any red flags in your case. Further, my experience has been that every couple is different and every story is different – it is important to demonstrate how unique each application is.
Once this portion is completed, the documents and the submission letter, we will then ask you to fill out a series of immigration forms. Some for the applicant and some for the sponsor. We complete the forms toward the end of the preparation of the application as immigration forms often expire, sometimes every month. Submitting an expired form to CIC can result in the entire application being returned and even sometimes refused.
Closer to when the application will be filed, we also request the applicant to undergo the medical examination, as these medical tests expire as well.
First Step – CPC Mississauga – Eligibility of the Sponsor
At this stage, the application is almost complete. As the client, you will be able to review the entire application along with the submission letter to ensure that it is to your liking. We will then be submitting the application by courier to the Case Processing Centre in Mississauga where takes place the first step – the eligibility of the sponsor. This process can take anywhere from 2-5 months depending on the backlog of the office, even though the CIC website oscillates between 1-2 months for the processing time of this first step.
Transfer of Application for Further Processing
Once the eligibility of the sponsor is approved, we will receive a letter indicating so. The letter will also usually indicate that the application has now been forwarded to the visa office abroad responsible for your file. In some cases, if the applicant is already living in Canada under proper status, the record can continue to process in Mississauga or be sent to Ottawa for processing.
The application will now process at the visa post abroad (Embassy, High Commission or Consulate General). Once the file has been assigned to an immigration officer, the officer will submit requests, usually in the forms of emails or letters requesting updated forms, new clearances, sometimes updated medicals and other information about the spouses. This is standard practice. There can be many back and forth with the officer at this stage to adequately finalize the file, and this stage can take months to complete.This is the longest part of the application. This is where a lot of couples get frustrated and impatient! Therefore important to have adequate representation on file to guide you through what is “normal” and what is not.
CIC provides on its website approximate processing times for each visa post abroad on sponsorships – these processing times are regularly updated. However, having practiced immigration law for so many years, I can confidently say that about 50% of the cases are processed in the time frame indicated by CIC. In some cases, files might process faster but, most often than not, much much longer.
Why is this? Clients often ask me to call the Embassy or send a request to expedite or “find out what is going on.” Some clients even try to call the Embassy or show up in person to demand an explanation! None of these actions are solutions and in fact, can negatively affect your application. An application can take longer to process simply because there is a backlog at the Embassy. A backlog means that there are many pending applications and often only 1 or 2 immigration officers on duty to review and complete these files. Officers are human beings as well and not machines. They must review each application carefully and ensure that all the requirements are met. This all makes sense as Canada is one of the best countries in the world and we want to ensure that only deserving people enter.
Becoming a Permanent Resident of Canada is a Privilege and Not a Right
Also, it should be reminded that it is a privilege to become a permanent resident of Canada, and eventually a Canadian citizen, not a right. I am often surprised at my clients who are impatient and end up in distress when the processing of their application is not going three times faster then what is posted! What I tell my client is that the 12-month waiting time is a glimpse of a moment when you look at the long-term plan of being re-united with your spouse in Canada forever.
My experience has also shown me that a complete application with strong supporting documents tends, in most cases, to drastically reduce the average processing time. I have often been pleasantly surprised when some applications took a few months from beginning to end. However, this should be taken with a grain of salt – as I always say: “In immigration, we hope for the best, but we are prepared for the worst.”
It is important in immigration law to view and understand the administrative world of CIC in a very realistic manner. As experienced professionals dealing with CIC on a daily basis, we are here to guide you and provide you with the clear answer as to what you can expect.