Author: Al Parsai, LL.M, RCIC-IRB
Last Updated On: November 7, 2022

Definition of a Family Member for Immigration to Canada

family member definition for immigration to CanadaSakura is a Japanese citizen who immigrated to Canada four years ago. As the only member of the family in Canada, she intends to sponsor some of her family members to Canada. However, Sakura is not quite sure who she may sponsor. Consequently, she searches for the definition of a family member for immigration to Canada. Regardless, Sakura does not understand the definitions yet.

Throughout my career, I realized the definition of a family member for immigration to Canada is confusing. Sometimes even my students have difficulty comprehending it. As a result, this article is an effort to explain the definition in an easily understandable way.

Definition of a family member when you are immigrating to Canada

If you are immigrating to Canada, your family members could be the following only (practitioners see R1(3)).

Who is a spouse?

A spouse is someone that you legally marry. Of course, the jurisdiction you marry must recognize your marriage. In other words, you need to hold credible documents such as a marriage certificate that attest to the validity of the marriage. However, if you marry someone to get the opportunity to immigrate to Canada, you are not a spouse under the immigration law (practitioners see R4(1)). Moreover, if you divorce your spouse to manage to immigrate to Canada and then later marry your ex-spouse again to sponsor them to Canada, then the immigration law does not recognize them as a spouse anymore (practitioners see R4.1). Nonetheless, both spouses must be physically present at the marriage ceremony (exceptions apply to some Canadian armed forces members).

Who is a common-law partner?

You are common-law partners if you cohabit with each other for at least one year in a spouse-like relationship (practitioners see R1(1)). Of course, this definition is for immigration purposes only. Thus, the definition of common law in your jurisdiction could be different. In exceptional situations, if you are in a spouse-like (i.e. conjugal) relationship for at least one year but no cohabitation, you may still be common laws. However, it would be best to show that cohabitation was not an option due to persecution or penal control (practitioners see R1(2)).

Who is a dependent child?

A dependent child is either your biological or your adopted child. However, they must meet one of the following two conditions (practitioners see R2):

  • They are not a spouse or common-law partner and less than 22 years old.
  • If they are 22 or older, they are financially dependent on you because of a significant physical or mental health issue.

Typically, the immigration authorities lock the age of children at the time of applying. Consequently, if you submitted an application when your child was 20, they won’t remove them from the application if they are more than 22 when the officer finalizes the application (practitioners see R25.1(1)).

Definition of a family member when you are sponsoring

Imagine you are a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada who wants to sponsor your family members to Canada. Of course, I am referring to sponsorship applications under family reunification programs.  In these situations, you could consider the following as your family members concerning you (practitioners see R117(1)).

  • spouse
  • common-law partner
  • conjugal partner
  • dependent children
  • parents
  • grandparents
  • orphaned children who are under 18 years old and they are
    • brothers or sisters
    • nephews or nieces
    • grandchildren
  • adopted dependent children

If the sponsor does not have any previous family members, they could sponsor any family member of their choice, such as their overage siblings.

Who is a conjugal partner?

You are conjugal partners if you have been in a spouse-like relationship for at least one year (practitioners see R2). However, due to convincing reasons, you could not co-habit all the time.

Who is a parent or a grandparent?

Parent in the context of the immigration law refers to your biological parents or those parents who legally adopted you. Of course, the same kind of relationship needs to exist between your parents and your grandparents (practitioners see R3(2)).

Who is an orphan?

An orphan is someone who has lost both their parents.

Excluded family relationships

When it comes to sponsorship applications, you must exclude some family members despite the definitions I offered earlier. Here are some examples (practitioners see R117(9) and R5).

  • The spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner is less than 18 years old at the time of the sponsorship.
  • The sponsor or the spouse was in a common-law or spousal relationship at the time of the marriage.
  • The marriage or common-law relationship is not genuine or is primarily for immigration.
  • The adoption is primarily for immigration.
  • At least one of the spouses was not physically present at the marriage ceremony (exceptions apply to some members of the Canadian armed forces)
  • A family member is an undeclared person.

Who is an undeclared family member?

When you immigrate to Canada, you could become inadmissible because of your family members. Therefore, the immigration authorities expect to examine all your family members, even if they are not accompanying you to Canada. Of course, the examination includes background screening and medical exams. Consequently, the following family members are undeclared:

While you may not sponsor undeclared family members, a pilot program allows sponsoring certain undeclared family members.

Let us help!

I hope this post has helped you clearly understand the definition of a family member for immigration to Canada. However, for official advice consider booking an appointment with me or filling out our assessment form. Of course, you may fill out the following form if you intend to sponsor a family member in migration to Canada.

    What is your status in Canada


    Do you live inside or outside Canada?

    Have you paid taxes in Canada for the last 5 years (NOA required)

    What kind of sponsorship are you interested in

    Is the sponsor eligible to sponsor a family member to Canada?

    How many family members does the sponsor have including the sponsored persons?

    What is your annual income rate?

    Additional information (optional but helpful)

    Please share more information to help us better assess you:

    Are you currently inside Canada?

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    Al Parsai, LLM, MA, DTM, RCIC
    Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant
    Ashton College Instructor – Immigration Consulting
    Author – 88 Tips on Immigration to Canada

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    This article provides information of a general nature only. Considering the fluid nature of the immigration world, it may no longer be current. Of course, the item does not give legal advice. Therefore, do not rely on it as legal advice or immigration advice. Consequently, no one could hold us accountable for the content of these articles. Of course, if you have specific legal questions, you must consult a lawyer. Alternatively, if you are looking for immigration advice, book an appointment.

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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.