Author: Al Parsai, LL.M, RCIC-IRB
Last Updated On: June 29, 2024

Comparing Family-Based Immigration in the US and Canada

Family Reunification Immigration Options in Canada and the United States

Maria, a 48-year-old dual citizen of the US and Canada, faced a significant decision. Her parents, now in their late seventies, needed to move closer due to their declining health. She could sponsor them through family-based immigration in either country. Therefore, Maria spent countless nights researching both options. She consulted friends, read forums, and attended webinars. Her goal was to find the best path for her parents’ future. The process seemed daunting. However, Maria felt determined. She hoped to choose a country that offered the quickest and most supportive immigration process.

Introduction to Family-Based Immigration

Family-based immigration allows citizens and residents to sponsor their relatives. Both the United States and Canada support this approach. They recognize the importance of reuniting families.

In 2023, the United States targeted around 480,000 family-based immigrants, including immediate relatives and family preference categories. The government prioritizes immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.

Canada also values family reunification. In 2022, Canada welcomed approximately 97,000 family-sponsored immigrants. This category includes spouses, partners, children, and parents.

Both countries have specific programs and policies to facilitate the sponsorship of family members. They aim to keep families together and support their integration into society.

Family-Based Immigration Options in the United States

Family-based immigration options in the United States allow U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to sponsor certain family members for immigration. These options are divided into two main categories: Immediate Relatives and Family Preference Categories.

Immediate Relatives

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens have special immigration priority and are not subject to annual numerical limits. The categories include:

  • Spouses of U.S. citizens
  • Unmarried children under 21 years of age of U.S. citizens
  • Parents of U.S. citizens, provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years old

Family Preference Categories

These categories are subject to annual numerical limits set by Congress and often have significant wait times, varying depending on the specific category and the applicant’s home country. The categories include:

  • First Preference (F1): Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years of age or older) of U.S. citizens.
  • Second Preference (F2): Spouses, minor children, and unmarried sons and daughters (21 years or older) of lawful permanent residents.
  • F2A: Spouses and unmarried minor children of lawful permanent residents.
  • F2B: Unmarried sons and daughters (21 years or older) of lawful permanent residents.
  • Third Preference (F3): Married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
  • Fourth Preference (F4): Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, provided the U.S. citizen is at least 21 years old.

Steps to Apply

Filing the Petition

  • Form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative): The sponsoring U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must file this form with USCIS to establish the qualifying relationship.

Processing

  • Once Form I-130 is approved, the case is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC) for further processing.
  • Immediate relatives can generally proceed to visa processing or status adjustment without a wait time. Family preference categories may have to wait for a visa number to become available.

Consular Processing or Adjustment of Status

  • If the family member is outside the U.S., they will undergo consular processing at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • If the family member is inside the U.S., they may apply for adjustment of status using Form I-485 (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status).

Affidavit of Support

  • The sponsor must submit Form I-864 (Affidavit of Support) to demonstrate they can financially support the intending immigrant and prevent them from becoming a public charge.

Key Considerations

  • Visa Bulletin: For family preference categories, the U.S. Department of State publishes the Visa Bulletin each month, showing which priority dates are currently being processed.
  • Supporting Documentation: Proof of relationship, financial support, and other documentation are required throughout the process.
  • Medical Examination: The intending immigrant must undergo a medical examination as part of the immigration process.

The USCIS website and the U.S. Department of State Visa Bulletin are valuable resources for detailed information on the specific requirements and procedures.

Family Reunification in Canada

Family reunification in Canada allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents to sponsor their family members for immigration. The goal is to keep families together and support their integration into Canadian society. The family sponsorship program includes different categories for various family members.

Immediate Family Members

Immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents have special priority. The categories include:

Other Eligible Relatives

Canada also allows sponsorship for other eligible relatives in certain circumstances. These categories are subject to specific conditions and often have longer processing times. They include:

Steps to Apply

Filing the Sponsorship Application

  • Form IMM 1344 (Application to Sponsor): The sponsoring Canadian citizen or permanent resident must file this form with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to establish the qualifying relationship.

Processing

  • Once the sponsorship application is approved, IRCC processes the permanent residence application for the sponsored family member.
  • Immediate family members generally have quicker processing times. Other eligible relatives may face longer wait times.

Medical, Security, and Background Checks

  • Sponsored family members must undergo medical exams, security checks, and background checks to ensure they meet Canada’s immigration requirements.

Financial Requirements

  • The sponsor must demonstrate financial ability to support the sponsored family members. This ensures that the sponsored family members do not burden Canadian social services financially.
  • Undertaking: The sponsor must sign an undertaking to provide financial support for a specific period. This period varies depending on the relationship to the sponsored person.

Key Considerations

  • Processing Times: IRCC provides estimated processing times for family sponsorship applications on its website.
  • Supporting Documentation: Proof of relationship, financial support, and other documentation are required throughout the process.
  • Medical Examination: The intending immigrant must undergo a medical examination as part of the immigration process.

Comparing Family-Based Immigration in the US and Canada

Both the United States and Canada have robust family-based immigration programs. They aim to keep families together. Each country has unique categories and processes for sponsoring family members.

AspectUnited StatesCanada
Immediate Family MembersSpouses, unmarried children under 21, parents of U.S. citizensThere are no annual limits for immediate family members; other relatives are subject to specific conditions
Other Eligible RelativesUnmarried sons and daughters over 21, married sons and daughters, siblings of U.S. citizensOrphaned siblings, nephews, nieces, grandchildren under 18, other relatives under specific conditions
Numerical LimitsThere are no annual limits for immediate family members; other relatives are subject to specific conditions.Orphaned siblings, nephews, nieces, grandchildren under 18, and other relatives under specific conditions
Key FormsForm I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative), Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status)Form IMM 1344 (Application to Sponsor)
Financial RequirementsForm I-864 (Affidavit of Support) requiredFinancial ability to support sponsored family members, signing an undertaking
Processing TimesVaries by category and country of origin; Visa Bulletin published monthlyVaries by category; IRCC provides estimated processing times
Medical ExaminationRequiredRequired
Steps to ApplyFile Form I-130, process through NVC, consular processing or adjust status in the U.S.File Form IMM 1344 and other forms, IRCC processes application, medical and security checks

Both countries have structured and comprehensive processes for family-based immigration. While the categories and specific requirements differ, the goal remains: to reunite families and support their successful integration into society.

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    Al Parsai, LL.M, RCIC-IRB

    Al Parsai is a distinguished Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (L3 RCIC-IRB – Unrestricted Practice) hailing from vibrant Toronto, Canada. Al's academic achievements include an esteemed role as an adjunct professor at prestigious Queen's University Law School and Ashton College, as well as a Master of Laws (LLM) degree from York University (Osgood Hall Law School). A respected member of CICC, Al's insights are further enriched by his experience as the dynamic CEO of Parsai Immigration Services. Guiding thousands of applicants from over 55 countries through the immigration process since 2011, Al's articles offer a wealth of invaluable knowledge for readers.