Family reunification - options for refugees

Reunification with immediate family members

Canada's immigration rules give special avenues for refugees to reunite with immediate family members, who are called "dependants".

Dependants are in summary:

  • Spouse (by marriage or common law)
  • Unmarried biological or adopted children who were under 22 years at the lock-in date. (For refugees, the lock-in date is generally (a) the date that the refugee claim was made, or (b) the date the private sponsorship undertaking was submitted, or (c) the date that the Government-Assisted Refugee's case was referred to Canada. For more information on lock-in dates, see and

The available avenues depend on whether the refugee was:

  • resettled to Canada (privately sponsored, Government-Assisted or Blended Visa-Office Referred (BVOR)) - see below
  • determined to be a refugee (Protected Person) within Canada, either by the Immigration and Refugee Board, or through a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) - see below

For resettled refugees: One Year Window

In some cases, a resettled refugee's immediate family members (spouse and dependent children) may not be able to travel with them to Canada. This might be because the family was separated for reasons beyond their control in two different countries, or because a family member was missing and their location was unknown.

If the location of the separated family members is known, after the person arrives in Canada they can apply for their non-accompanying family members to join them. The family members must have been declared on the refugee’s immigration forms. This family reunification application is called the One Year Window (OYW) of opportunity and must be submitted by the resettled person within one year after their arrival to Canada.

The OYW program does not mean that the family members will be in Canada within one year. There is no official processing time for OYW applications and it can often take more than a year for the family members to arrive.

The family members coming through OYW will have to complete an IMM 6000 package similar to what the principal applicant completed to come to Canada. 

In the case of privately sponsored refugees and those who came as BVORs, the private sponsors will also need to demonstrate their capacity to support the additional family members.

Example of a OYW case

Semhar is a refugee who fled Eritrea and traveled to Israel. While in Eritrea, her husband was arrested by security forces and he had not been seen since. She thought he could have been killed but was not sure. Semhar was sponsored to Canada. On her application she included her husband even though his location was unknown. A few months after arriving in Canada she found out that her husband is alive and in a refugee camp in Sudan. Semhar’s husband completes a OYW application and submits it before the end of her first year in Canada.

The instructions (except for Quebec)

IRCC instructions for one year window

Useful information (particularly for privately sponsored refugees)

RSTP fact sheet

RSTP site on the OYW

The instructions for Quebec

See this page

For more information

See CCR's Refugee family reunification: Practical Guide (Section B, page 4)

For people determined to be refugees in Canada

Accepted refugees who are adults can include in their permanent residence application their immediate family members (or dependants), whether they are in Canada or overseas.

The family members overseas will not receive their visa to travel to Canada until after the principal applicant in Canada has received their permanent residence.

People determined to be refugees in Canada can also use the one year window of opportunity (OYW). It may apply in cases where family members’ whereabouts were not known, or for some reason they did not plan to come immediately to Canada. The application for the family member needs to be made within one year of the person receiving permanent residence (and the family member must have been listed on the person's application).

For more information

IRCC guide and application forms

See CCR's Refugee family reunification: Practical Guide (Section A, page 1)

Undeclared family members: Excluded family members

An immediate family member who was undeclared or unexamined when the person in Canada became a permanent resident is an "Excluded Family Member" and by regulation cannot be sponsored through the Family Class. However, a pilot project introduced in 2019 and extended in 2021 exempts family members of people who became permanent residents in the Refugee Class or the Family Class (with some exceptions).

This means that people who arrived as refugees may be able to sponsor through the Family Class a spouse or child who was not declared during their immigration processing.

For more information

See CCR's Pilot for Excluded Family Members: Practical Information

Options for other family members

Canada’s options for family reunification are quite narrow and limited.

The Family Class allows certain family members (notably parents or grandparents) to be sponsored. However, the financial requirements are beyond the capacity of many.

If a family member is a refugee themselves, it is possible to look at refugee sponsorship programs.

Lastly, it is possible to come to Canada under an economic immigration program, although there are many restrictions on this option as well. For more information on the requirements of different programs see here for immigrating to Quebec, and here for immigration to the rest of Canada.

Sponsorship of parents or grandparents

Sponsorship of Parents or Grandparents is difficult to access as the government only accepts a limited number of applications each year. Also, there are income requirements which can be difficult to meet.

This program could be a good longer term option for some.

Refugee sponsorship options

If a family member is also a refugee, refugee sponsorship might be an option.

However, it may be difficult to find an organization able to take on the sponsorship of a named individual. Many organizations that do sponsorship have long waiting lists.