International students who become permanent residents while living with a boyfriend or girlfriend could forever lose the ability to sponsor that person to join them in Canada as a spouse.
That’s one of the complexities of the immigration system that students may not understand when considering how and when to transition to permanent resident status and how and when to bring a spouse to Canada.
Consider this case: Weize Chen and Xiao Feng Gao met in China in 2005 and moved in together in 2006. Chen moved to Canada as a permanent resident in 2008 and the couple married in 2011. Two years later, Canadian authorities refused Gao’s application for permanent resident status as Chen’s wife. The Federal Court of Canada upheld that decision in September.
The issue is that Canadian law considers common-law partners equivalent to spouses. You must declare your spouse or partner when applying for permanent resident status. If you don’t, you can’t sponsor them to come to Canada after you get permanent resident status. And depending on circumstances, a live-in girlfriend or boyfriend may be a common-law partner under Canadian law.
The Federal Court agreed with an earlier ruling that said Gao and Chen were common-law partners when Chen applied for permanent resident status. Chen should have declared Gao as his partner then but did not. Now he can’t sponsor Gao as his bride.
That situation is one that many international students could face if they apply for permanent resident status while living with a boyfriend or girlfriend who is not a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. If they later marry, immigration officials may declare that the girlfriend or boyfriend should have been declared as a common-law partner when the student applied for permanent resident status.
This is one of several issued explained in Vancouver lawyer Will Tao’s column about the many issues to consider when an international student brings a spouse to Canada.