How Family Reunification Program leads to real-life absurdities | Natalia Bialkowska

By Natalia Bialkowska

Law360 Canada (August 25, 2022, 9:25 AM EDT) --
Natalia Bialkowska
Natalia Bialkowska
Among its many immigration options, Canada offers the Family Reunification Program (FRP), commonly referred to as family sponsorship. The program is designed to allow anyone, who qualifies as a sponsor and meets other pre-established requirements, to secure permanent residency for their non-Canadian relatives.

This immigration pathway is so popular that in the span of a decade from 2010 to 2020, it accounted, on average, for 27 per cent of all permanent residents in Canada. Indeed, the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) glorifies its program as one of the three pillars of Canadian immigration, right next to the economic immigration and refugee protection programs. While certainly having its advantages based on the above statistics alone, the FRP stumbles, if not fails, to live up to its main objective “to see that families are reunited in Canada.” The reason therefore is twofold: firstly, its overtly narrow definition of a co-signor and secondly, its overtly broad requirement of medical examinations.

Family sponsorship: Who are we talking about?

Let’s begin with defining who can apply through the FRP. The way the FRP works is that a sponsor brings a principal applicant (i.e., the sponsor’s relative) to live in Canada while undertaking (i.e., promising the government) to be financially responsible for said relative for a specified amount of time. Under the current law, the length of said undertaking varies from three to 20 years dependent on the family relationship. Both the “sponsor” and the “relative” is predefined by the government. To qualify as a sponsor, you must be at least 18 years old and a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or person registered as an “Indian” under the Canadian Indian Act. To qualify as a relative, i.e. a person who may be sponsored, you must be a spouse (which includes common-law and conjugal partners), parent or grandparent, dependent child, or other family member such as, for example, an orphaned relative under 18 years old. The definitions are vast enough that practically anyone related by blood, adoption, or marriage may use this program to immigrate to Canada if at least one relative has already secured at minimum permanent residency themselves. The current law, however, is not so generous in practice, especially when we look closer at the other requirements that a sponsor and a relative must meet.

Minimum necessary income and the need for a spouse

One of the FRP’s requirements, leading to absurd real-life conclusions, is for the sponsor to meet the minimum necessary income threshold. The sole two exceptions to this income requirement are when: (1) you are sponsoring your dependent child who is childless, and (2) you are sponsoring your spouse or partner, whose dependent child, shall they have them, remains childless throughout the pendency of the application. In other words, you do not have to show that you make enough money only if you are sponsoring your spouse or child, and at the same time, you are not a grandparent or step-grandparent. That is a quite limited number of scenarios when you think of all the family relatives Canada allows you to sponsor.  

Now, the Canadian government does allow you to meet the infamous income requirement if you bring into the application a so-called “co-signor.” The co-signor may add up to the income so that along with the sponsor, they meet the income cut-off threshold. What is the trade-off? Just like you — the sponsor, a co-signor must agree to be financially on the hook for your relative for the same amount of time as you do in your own undertaking to the government. But wait, who can be a co-signor? Only your spouse or common-law/conjugal partner. This is exactly where the current law runs into absurdity when put into practice. Based on all you now know, think about these sample scenarios:

  • Can two siblings, who are currently single and failing to make enough money on their own to meet the minimum income threshold, join in the FRP application to sponsor their mother together? No. One of them should go ahead and find themselves a spouse, who, fingers crossed, will like their future mother-in-law enough to co-sign for her residency.
  • Can a lonesome aunt bring her orphaned underage niece to Canada with the assistance of a co-signature by her dear life-long Canadian friend? No. She’d better start dating to secure, at the very least, a common-law partner who agrees to serve as a co-signor.
  • Can a widowed son, with a 1-year-old baby, sign off on the undertaking and help his father bring his mother to Canada so she can live here and help him with her own grandchild? No. Instead, the elderly mother will have to travel back and forth to not overstay her visa unless, in some unlikely real-life circumstances, she secures the Canadian residency on her own.

Here, the law carries quite particular real-life effects, which main one is tearing families apart rather than reuniting them. One simple solution to this legal travesty is expanding the “co-signor” definition to anyone and everyone, while maintaining the obvious prerequisites such as their age (i.e., over 18 years old) and legal status (i.e. Canadian residency, citizenship, or registration as an Indian).

Medical examinations and family drama

Let’s look at another problematic requirement in the current FRP system: medical examinations. In fact, this specific requirement is the same for all applications for Canadian permanent residency but shows its true absurd colours specifically in cases of family sponsorship. As the IRCC states, “[i]f you apply for permanent residence, you must have an immigration medical exam. Your family members must also have a medical exam, even if they’re not coming with you.”

To be clear, all family members of the sponsored relative must be declared in the FRP application and medically examined in order for that one relative to satisfy this requirement. These family members do not need to be coming to Canada; indeed, they might never want to come to Canada at all. Who falls under the legal umbrella of “family members”? A spouse or partner, the sponsor’s or said spouse’s/partner’s dependent children and their dependent children. Who is a “dependent child”? Anyone who is legally single and under 22 years old.

Again, let’s translate the legalese into real life. Think of this simple scenario: currently a new Canadian citizen, you happened to have kids many years ago, at a young age, with a former partner. The two of you parted ways and for no nefarious reasons, the court granted full custody over the children to your former partner. Years passed and you met a wonderful person, who became your new spouse. You now want to sponsor your new non-Canadian spouse. In your and your new spouse’s FRP application, your underage kids — raised for years solely by your former partner — must undergo medical exams so that your new spouse can become a permanent resident. Just imagine making that request to your ex! More often than not, this can quickly turn into unpleasantries à la Hollywood’s Kramer vs. Kramer scenes, especially if there has been little or no contact with said former partner. To the dismay of all parties involved, currently, the Canadian immigration law offers no solutions or ways around it.

The IRCC cites the following reason to uphold this overtly burdensome requirement: “[a]ll your dependants must have a medical exam done to make sure they’re admissible to Canada. They must be admissible to be able to be sponsored in the future.”

Personally, it seems that the government worries way ahead into the future over things that might never occur. It is highly likely that the former partner’s kids will never want to come live with their other parent and new stepparent, who they might have never even met or known of. If — as the law currently requires — all permanent resident applicants must undergo their own medical examination as part of their own application, let’s instead wait and see if these potential applicants ever do apply. Otherwise, why gather private information such as bloodwork and history of diseases now on foreigners who might never step foot in Canada? Why complicate lives of people, who do want to immigrate and contribute to this country, by dragging them through unnecessary family drama? The IRCC’s reasoning behind the current medical examination requirement is so far off from the reality that it turns the motivation of family reunification on its head.

All in all, we started this analysis with glories being sung by the IRCC for the family reunification opportunities in Canada. Having deciphered the legal puzzles of the FRP’s requirements, it seems to be high time to re-evaluate the current system and address its problematic nature to avoid absurd real-life implications.

Natalia Bialkowska is a Canadian lawyer of Polish origin, educated in the United States. She is the founder of NB Law Firm, specializing in Canadian immigration and personal injury law. Based in Toronto, she serves clients speaking English, Polish and Spanish. Contact: 416-550-4746 or

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