Avoiding Common Family Sponsorship Pitfalls

Disclaimer: The following information is intended to provide general information only. It’s a good idea to consult a lawyer about your particular circumstances before filing your application, to learn what to expect and make the process go more smoothly. For free legal advice and information, please call our Intake Line at 416-441-1764 extension 1.

Sponsoring a family member – your spouse, common-law partner, children, or parents – can take a lot of time and money. With filing fees in the hundreds of dollars, and wait times often a year or more, there are a few items you will want to address before you even apply, to avoid wasting time and money.


If the any of the following apply to you, there are steps to take before you make the application:

  • If you’re on social assistance – Ontario Works (OW) or in subsidized housing
  • If you previously received an immigration loan from Canada, but haven’t been paying it
  • If you didn’t support a previously sponsored family member during the period you were obligated to support them

Social Assistance

Under the immigration rules, a sponsor cannot be on social assistance (except for a reason other than disability) at any point during the sponsorship application.

  • Able to work – If you can work, it’s best to find a job and get off of social assistance. You can include a letter from your new employer, your paystubs, and/or a letter from the Employment & Social Services caseworker stating you are not on Ontario Works, to confirm to IRCC your income status.
  • Disability – If you cannot work because you have a qualifying disability, it would be best to get on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits, instead of Ontario Works. You can initiate the application process through your Employment & Social Services caseworker.
  • Other circumstances – You may have a good reason why you cannot work that is not due to a disability, that may justify asking for an exception from the rules. You will need to provide documentation of those reasons and it is a good idea to seek legal representation to make such a request.

Immigration Loan

Under the immigration rules, a sponsor cannot be “in default of an immigration loan” (that means missing payments that are owed) at any point during the sponsorship application.  Immigration loans tend to be more common with individuals who came to Canada as refugees.  If the Canadian government paid for your air tickets to come to Canada, or gave you money for living expenses in the form of a loan, your obligations to start paying back the loan begin 12 months after being granted permanent residence.

In order to get yourself ready to sponsor, you may need to:

  • Set up a monthly payment plan for the loan with the IRCC office that services immigration loans. You will be expected to pay off the arrears (unpaid amounts due since the 12-month mark) and be up-to-date in your payments before being eligible to sponsor.
  • Make sure your bank account has sufficient funds at all times. If your bank account dips below zero and you have set up automatic payments, you might not aware that you have missed a payment. In this case, IRCC will inform you that you are no longer an eligible sponsor, as you would be considered in default of the immigration loan.

Please call our Intake Line if you need guidance on how to do this.

Previous sponsorship default

This only affects sponsors who have previously successfully sponsored a family member for permanent residence in Canada.  When you sponsored a family member, you signed a form (the IMM 1344 Application to Sponsor, Sponsorship Agreement and Undertaking) that contained a promise to support that family member in their basic needs, for a certain number of years. Currently the length of the promise is as follows:

  • A spouse or common law partner – three years from the date they became a permanent resident
  • A dependent child who was under age 22 when they became a permanent resident – the earlier of 10 years or when they turn 25 years old
  • A child who was age 22 years or over when they became a permanent resident – three years
  • A spouse’s or common-law partner’s child – three years
  • Parent or grandparent – 20 years

For example, you previously sponsored a spouse or common-law partner, and later separated, or a child left home, and they ended up going on social assistance while you were still obligated to support them. Be aware that the end of the family relationship does not get you off the hook from paying for their basic needs for the number of years you promised, even if they were the one who walked away from the relationship.

If you have lost contact with the former family member, likely you won’t know if they went on social assistance right away. While by policy, IRCC is supposed to send a warning letter to advise defaulting sponsors of a potential sponsorship breakdown, in practice this rarely happens.

If you become aware that you owe a sponsorship debt, arranging and paying under a monthly payment plan usually will permit you to proceed with a new sponsorship application.

It may not be realistic to inquire and learn about a sponsorship debt prior to filing a new sponsorship application. There may be privacy issues that prevent the responsible office (the Ontario Ministry of Employment and Social Services) from providing information about another person. Additionally from past experience, it has taken a very long time to receive a response from the responsible office.

However, ordinarily after a sponsor submits the application, IRCC provides notice in the form of a procedural fairness letter, providing time to address these issues, inquire about the amount of unpaid debt and set up a payment plan.

More detailed information about this topic in Ontario is provided at this link:

For free legal advice and information, please call our Intake Line at 416-441-1764 ext. 1.