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My Journey to Canadian Permanent Residency via Common Law Sponsorship

On 11th April 2014, I became a Permanent Resident of Canada! It was a very happy day for the both JR and I – it meant we were now able to live in Canada together as long as we like without any visa restrictions. 

This is the story of how I became a Permanent Resident of Canada. Please note that I am not an immigration lawyer or consultant so can only talk about my application and processing experience. 

Updated 2018

Becoming a permanent resident of Canada

A Permanent Resident is an immigrant who can live in Canada permanently but cannot vote, run for political office or have a Canadian passport. After a certain amount of time as a PR, they can apply for become a citizen and then do all of the above should they wish.

There is also one very important obligation that PRs have – they have to live in Canada for at least two years of every five to keep permanent residency status (though there are some exceptions).

gemma quebec city wits canada

A long working holiday in canada

November 2011 – Jean Robert and I had just finished a three-month road trip around Europe and headed to British Columbia in the hopes of perhaps working in a ski resort for a year or so.

Only six months later (after a successful season snowboarding and working at Vancouver Island’s Mount Washington) we were getting into the swing of BC life and started to wonder if we would be both able to stay longer. JR, being a Canadian citizen, could stay forever if he wanted. It was me that was the problem. 

As a British citizen, I could apply (at the time) for two one-year working holiday visas, one of which I was already halfway through, and the other I had already applied for.

Once I activated the second, we would then be on a ticking clock for departure. I knew it was very unlikely I would be able to get a visa via work sponsorship as my job was minimum wage and limited to the winter season.

Why don’t you just get married?

As a Plan B, I started to research what options there were for partners of Canadian citizens. I found out pretty quickly that applying for Permanent Residency was an option for both married and common-law couples.

And what does ‘common law’ mean, you may ask? According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), it means living with your partner for at least 12 consecutive months in a relationship like a marriage.’

Well, this changed everything. By this point, we had lived together for almost three years so we were set. Throughout the application process, I actually had many people ask me why we didn’t get married to make things easier and here is the answer.

It doesn’t necessarily make the process any faster as applications from married and common law couples are considered together.

italy jr gemma

Preparing the common law application

Fast forward to the start of winter and we made the decision to go ahead with the application. It is not something to be taken lightly as the costs are certainly not low (we spent $2500 total, fees, paperwork, photos and medical all in) and it takes time to put the actual application together.

In our case, it took approximately two months from when I first looked at the documentation checklist on the CIC website to actually putting our application in the mail.

Both married and common law couples have to prove that their relationship is ‘loving, ongoing and genuine’ for their application to be approved.

As a common law couple, we also had to prove that we had been living together as if we were married (shared bank accounts, paying bills together, mail at the same address). This means there is a LOT of gathering of documentation that must be done even before any forms could even be filled out. 

Inland vs. outland common law PR application

Something else that has to be decided before completing any forms is whether to apply inland or outland. When applying for PR via the common law/spousal sponsorship route, the applicant has a choice of ways to file.

Outland means the application is processed outside of Canada, in the applicant’s home country or nearest processing office.

Inland means processing happens in Canada – for this, the applicant must be living in Canada throughout the application.

Outland is usually faster than inland (depends on the visa office) but with the inland process, a work permit can be applied for, allowing the applicant to work while waiting.

I personally decided to apply inland (reasons explained later). I can’t really recommend applying one way or the other because it really depends on your own situation. However, if I had to do the application again, I would apply outland.

Gemma Kejimkujik national park

Finding proof of our relationship

To prove that Jean Robert and I had a loving/ongoing/genuine relationship we provided:

  • A collection of 20 photos taken of us in various stages of our relationship so far (some from the beginning, middle and a few very recent ones)
  • A few other photos of us with various family members, including a couple from my cousin’s wedding
  • Five personal letters from close family and friends (my parents, JR’s dad, three good friends)
  • Two notarized letters from our managers (also friends)
  • Screenshots of Facebook messages and emails between us – after meeting, before JR moved to the UK, some recent

My top tip: Provide a range of evidence but also be careful not to overwhelm the processing officer. If including Facebook message and emails, they do not need to see EVERY message you have ever sent each other. Choose a selection from throughout your relationship. Likewise, sending hundreds of photos is overkill.

Proving common law status for Canadian PR

Proving we had lived together for the length of our relationship was more difficult since we were never really ‘officially’ (on paper) living anywhere together until a few months before we put in the application.

Despite sharing our finances and living together for around three years, we had little physical proof of it. I only one tenancy agreement from five different places we had lived, no shared bank account and few shared utility bills.

For five months we actually didn’t even have an address as we were living in a van and travelling Europe. When we lived in the UK, Jean Robert didn’t even have a bank account (long story).

In end we used the following as evidence:

  • Shared bank account details (open a few months before the application)
  • Copy of current tenancy agreement
  • Signed and notarized statutory declaration of common-law union
  • Copies of our driver’s licenses with the same address

I also included any vaguely official documentation I could find that had both of our names on it as well as some more anecdotal evidence.

Here are some of the documents we sent: 

  • Jean Robert’s work health insurance coverage (I was listed as a common-law partner)
  • Joint car insurance that we had for six months
  • Flights to Canada booked together
  • A wedding invitation to both of us
  • Shared utility bill
  • Library cards listed at the same address
  • Matching stamps in our passports from our travels together 
  • Screenshots from the blog I kept about our three month Europe trip

Completing and sending the common law application

The actual application forms were fairly straightforward. My advice for applicants is to be patient and thorough.

  1. Read the guide (5525) several times in full before even attempting to complete the forms.
  2. Don’t rush! Trying to save time at this stage may lose you time later if your application is returned or deemed incomplete.
  3. Can’t open the forms? Save them onto your desktop and open from there. If still not working (PC users), right click and select ‘open with’ and then ‘Adobe Acrobat Reader.’
  4. Some forms have to be validated – don’t forget to print out and include the barcode page if one is created after validation.
  5. Do not leave gaps on any of the forms – if a field doesn’t apply to you, write ‘N/A.’
  6. When finished, triple check every document for missed signatures. If you miss one (and I did), your application’s process will be paused and the document in question returned to you. 
  7. Organise your application in a folder (with dividers) as per the Document Checklist for easy reading and processing.
  8. DO NOT USE STAPLES!
  9. Before sending, go through the Document Checklist again to make sure you have everything required.
  10. Send your application to the correct address – there are different processing centres for inland and outland applicants.

Our application ended up as a one-kilogram paper monster – I wish I had taken a photo.

gemma canola fields pei canada

The long wait and a potentially risky trip home

I applied inland as I wanted the work permit – problem was, processing times were delayed and instead of receiving it six months into the application, I was advised it would be a year or more*.

Turns out it didn’t matter so much anyway as the ski resort I was working at experienced the worst winter in years and was closed much of the season.

I decided to take an opportunity to go home to the UK, my first visit in over two years. I was taking a risk in leaving the country while having an inland application in process, but by then I had my work permit and felt it was unlikely I would be refused entry.

*Note – With the work permit system changing relatively soon after my application, delays like this are now rare.

Decision made – so near and yet so far

While in the UK, I found out that a decision had been made on my application. A little after my return to Canada (I had no trouble getting back in), I received a letter stating that I would be granted PR.

The downside was that I had to wait for an interview in Vancouver as I had applied inland. Rather than enter Canada at any border (airport, land or ferry) like an outland applicant would do, to receive my PR I would have to ‘land’ at an immigration office instead.

The waiting time to land at the Vancouver office (my nearest landing office) was six months. Ouch. I was grateful that my application had been processed reasonably quickly (11 months compared to the expected 18). But to think I’d have to wait another six months just for a formal ‘landing’ was frustrating. 

Canadian flag paragliding sail

Landing in Vancouver

The awful ski season we were experiencing at Mount Washington led us to bump up our summer road trip plans. Our adventure was to take us all over BC and the Yukon, with little internet or phone signal along the way. We would also be leaving our last address permanently. It would, therefore, be very difficult for CIC to contact us for an interview.

Knowing that CIC’s call centre was likely to be fairly useless on the subject, I wrote a letter to the Vancouver landing office to explain the situation. I did include a note that I knew that going on a road trip wasn’t the most desperate of circumstances, but I would appreciate any help at all.

The day my letter arrived the office, we received a phone call from a CIC agent who asked if we could come in the following Friday for a landing interview. We couldn’t believe it. I honestly didn’t think it was legitimate until we got to the CIC office on the Friday and my name was called. 

After a couple of formalities and some signatures, I landed and become a Permanent Resident! As evidence of this, I was given a COPR – Confirmation of Permanent Residency. 

Receiving my Canadian PR card

My PR story isn’t quite over. As a Permanent Resident, you have a PR Card as identification, essential when returning to Canada from abroad and for other things like signing up for health care. When landing inland, an automatic request for a PR card is sent. It took four months to receive my PR card.

This was super frustrating when it came to my driver’s license, as Service BC refused to renew my photo card until I had it. I had to carry a paper only license and renew it every month until I received my PR card. 

gemma and jr at luckett vineyards, Nova Scotia

Permanent residency card replacement

Just over six months after finally receiving my PR card, we went on a trip to Europe and had all of our belongings stolen in Italy. It was a bad situation already, but my still-new PR card was amongst the stolen items too.

I was cross-questioned when returning to Canada and applied for a new card as soon as I could. That was in June 2015. I finally received my card after an interview in Vancouver in June 2016. 

The road to citizenship

Under the citizenship requirements when I became a Permanent Resident, I would have been able to apply to become a Canadian citizen in Spring 2016 (2 years of PR status plus 2 years on temporary work permits).

Unfortunately, the rules changed under the Harper government to requiring Permanent Residents to live in Canada for four full years with PR status. These rules changed yet again in 2017 under Trudeau, this time back to the original regulations. 

Permanent Residents now need to live in Canada for three years of the last five to be able to apply for citizenship. Time on temporary work permits can be contributed up to a maximum of a year, at a 50% rate. I applied for citizenship in October 2017 and finally became a Canadian citizen seven months later. 

Manning Park hiking views - Choosing Working Holiday Travel Insurance

My Canadian immigration timeline

December 2011 – Arrived in Canada on my first one year long working holiday permit

December 2012 – Activated my second one year long working holiday permit

March 2013 – Applied for Permanent Residency via common law sponsorship

January 2014 – First stage approved, received sponsorship work permit

February 2014 – Went to the UK for two week holiday

February 2014 – Decision Made on second stage (approval, yay!)

March 2014 – Notified of six month landing wait in Vancouver

April 2014 – Landed in Vancouver, less than a week after sending letter to Vancouver office

August 2014 – Received Permanent Residency Card

May 2015 – Applied for replacement PR Card

June 2016 – Received replacement PR Card in Vancouver after interview

October 2017 – Applied for Canadian citizenship

March 2017 – Passed citizenship test

May 2017 – Became a Canadian citizen

June 2017 – Applied for Canadian passport

Gemma with mountie at Citizenship Oath Ceremony

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Hildebrandt

Monday 19th of October 2020

Hi Gemma, this is super helpful! I really love the simplicity of you've outlined everything.

I do have one question about the Fees though because a friend of mine forget to pay one fee and because of that the entire process took even longer.

I'm applying for PR through the common-law in Canada family class route. My common-law partner is a Canadian citizen and we've been living together for over a year and even a have beautiful labrador mix dog called Marvin. In addition the PR I will also need to apply for a new 'open' work permit because my VISA is running out early next year. I've been on two International experience Visa - first German and British. So I'll have lived in Canada for nearly 3 years now.

From my understanding the following fees need to paid:

- Open work permit holder fee ($100) - Sponsor your spouse or partner ($1,050 - see below) Sponsorship fee ($75), principal applicant processing fee ($475) and right of permanent residence fee ($500) - PR Card ($50) - PR Travel Document ($50) - Right Of Perminant Residency ($500)

I already have a valid Biometrics from my understanding so that shouldn't apply but what about the medical examination- I gather they will advice where to go? Further, my current health insurance is OHIP I gather that is my proof of Health Insurance?

Thanks in advance.

Chris

Gemma

Tuesday 20th of October 2020

Hi Chris,

Good to hear from you! It's awesome to hear that you're trying to apply for PR.

I don't actively follow changes to this PR route at this time but I can try to point you in the right direction. My total fees were:

Sponsorship fee $75 Principal applicant processing fee $475 Right to permanent residence $500 Open work permit holder fee $100

I also paid -

Approx $400 for the medical (it was expensive on Vancouver Island) Approx $15 for PR photos

Back then, biometrics were not a thing. I also needn't need to show health insurance so I'm not sure of the specifications regarding that.

I did not have to pay for the PR card (I think the $50 is just for a renewal) or for a travel document. I would double check with your friend which fee it was that they forgot, to make sure you don't do the same.

For the medical, you need to go to a Panel Physician - use this page to find one near you.

Sam

Thursday 19th of March 2020

Hi, I'm on my open work permit in canada working full time. I've been living with my girlfriend for more than 2 years now. Same address. She is a Canadian citizen. How can I apply for this procedure? And what exact documents do I need?

Gemma

Friday 20th of March 2020

Hi Sam,

You'll find everything you need here https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/application/application-forms-guides/guide-5289-sponsor-your-spouse-common-law-partner-conjugal-partner-dependent-child-complete-guide.html

Natalie Findley

Friday 13th of December 2019

Hi there! I'm just about to send my application off and I can't find, what order i should be putting my application in. Like the work permit at the top.. do i put the receipt on top or bottom of work permit, as well as the fee for the whole common-law application

Gemma

Monday 16th of December 2019

Hi Natalie,

I put things in the order as listed on the checklist. Anything beyond that, I put at the end.

Ally Fir

Tuesday 12th of November 2019

Hello! I\'m so happy to have read that everything worked out for you, this gives me hope for my partner and I. I\'m Canadian, and my partner is from the UK. We\'re looking at sponsorship as a common-law couple, but my partner is on a tourist visa and needs to leave in February. I understand that you were on the IEC , but what would you have done if you weren\'t on the IEC. Could you have applied while on a tourist visa and been allowed to stay? Any advice would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Gemma

Monday 18th of November 2019

Hi Ally,

Your partner can apply to their stay as a visitor. That usually adds 6 months, plus the processing time. Be sure to send the extension application off before their tourist status runs out and then they'll have implied status, so they can stay legally while the extension application is being processed. It is perfectly fine to apply for permanent residency while holding visitor status in Canada.

Bola

Thursday 17th of October 2019

Hi Gemma!

Your post is amazing! I’ve been looking for something this descriptive about this process for a bit now.

I’m from Nigeria and me and my girlfriend have been living together (in Nigeria) for about 2 years now, but neither of us is Canadian or have PR.

Can we apply for PR under common law partnership from Nigeria?

Gemma

Thursday 17th of October 2019

Hi Bola,

No, you would have to apply for Permanent Residency through one of the other streams, such as Express Entry. This uses a points system and evaluates your skills, education etc. One of you would apply as the primary applicant and the other as common law partner. If approved, you'd both receive permanent residency.