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Federal immigration moves to limit marriage fraud

I wrote earlier about the plight of Canadian sponsors who became victims of marriage fraud. My article entitled “Marriage Fraud: public perception and government reaction” appeared in the March 16 issue of Pilipino Express. The situation was tragic for the Canadian sponsors. The government has now made a number of changes to immigration regulations to stop this fraud. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration announced, earlier in the year, that sponsored spouses or partners would have to wait five years from their date of landing to sponsor a new spouse or partner. This was only the beginning. Effective 25 October 2012, Minister Jason Kenny introduced another change that requires spouses and partners to live for two years with their sponsors from their date of landing or risk losing their permanent residence.

Many Canadian victims of marriage fraud have been used by dishonest applicants from abroad as a way to get into Canada. Many were abandoned soon after their spouses obtained their permanent residence. Firm numbers are not available from Citizenship and Immigration but, out of the 46,300 immigration applications for spouses and partners processed in 2010, approximately 16% were refused, most on the basis of fraudulent relationships.

“There are countless cases of marriage fraud across the country,” said Minister Kenny in his news release about the change. “I have consulted widely with Canadians, and especially with victims of marriage fraud, who have told me clearly that we must take action to stop this abuse of our immigration system. Sometimes the sponsor in Canada is being duped and sometimes it’s a commercial transaction. Implementing a two-year conditional permanent residence period will help deter marriage fraud, prevent the callous victimization of innocent Canadians and help us put an end to these scams.”

The new change does not apply to all sponsored spouses or partners. The changes apply to spouses or partners who have been in a relationship for less than two years and who have no children in common with their sponsor, and whose applications are received on or after October 25, 2012. Spouse or partner, in such cases, must live with their sponsor for two years from the date of landing. The permanent residence of such persons can be revoked if they do not remain in the relationship for the minimum two-year period. The placement of conditions on permanent residence for spouses and partners is consistent with similar measures in Australia, United States and the United Kingdom.

The public reaction from lobby groups for sponsors has been positive. “I think it is a good measure,” said Palwinder Singh Gill, of the Canadian Marriage Fraud Victims Society, “Canada’s generous family sponsorship program was being abused because many people were marrying only to get a permanent resident card and then leave their partners. With this rule those abusing will think twice.” Sam Benet, president of Canadians Against Immigration Fraud, praised the new measure as “a bold step” that “sends a strong message to the fraudsters that Canadians are very generous, but we are not fools.”

But has the latest measure gone too far?

“Making permanent residence conditional for sponsored spouses gives power to the sponsor, who may use the threat of deportation to manipulate their spouses” warned Loly Rico, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “This measure is a gift to an abuser.”

Ms. Rico is correct to fear for the safety of newly arrived spouses and partners but the change in the regulations does include some important exemptions. The conditional measure “would cease to apply in instances where there is evidence of abuse or neglect by the sponsor or if the sponsor fails to protect the sponsored spouse or partner from abuse or neglect.” Minister Kenny explained in his news release. “This abuse or neglect could be perpetrated by the sponsor or a person related to the sponsor, whether or not the abusive party is living in the household or not during the conditional period. The exception would also apply in the event of the death of the sponsor.” The Minister, to his credit, has tried to provide some assurances to sponsored spouses or partners but I am not sure it covers the potential for forcing spouses to remain in abusive relationships.

We must all stop and think about sponsors and the spouses or partners they bring into the country. The five-year moratorium placed on landed spouses who want to sponsor another is not the issue. Most of us would agree that it was a good step and would be disclosed in any subsequent sponsorship application.

However, the conditional permanent resident status is problematic. It is important to note that the federal immigration Minister promotes the cost effective nature of measure: the sponsors themselves are expected to report spouses/partners who transgress. Now ask yourselves these questions: Who has more economic power? Who has a better understanding of the law? Who is the change designed to serve? Who knows where to go for help and counselling? Who is more likely to go to immigration authorities to enter a complaint? Who is more likely to use threats to coerce or control the other party? Finally, do the reported cases of spouse/partner abuse outweigh the reported cases of sponsor abuse? It is possible that the answer to any of these questions may be either spouse or sponsor, but realistically, the sponsor holds the stronger hand and therefore is the person more likely to abuse his or her power.

Fraud is not something most readers would support or condone. Furthermore, most readers would agree that the rights of sponsors and spouses/partners should both be respected. The 25 October 2012 changes introduced by Citizenship and Immigration Canada do provide another way to combat marriage fraud but do they place too much power in the hands of sponsors? Has the government gone too far in an effort to control immigration fraud and abuse? Is the solution worse than the problem?

Michael Scott BA (Hon), MA, is a 30-year veteran of Canada Immigration and the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program who works as an immigration associate with R.B. Global Immigration Consultants Ltd. He can be reached at 838 Ellice Avenue in Winnipeg, (204) 783-7326 or (204) 227-0292. E-mail: mscott.ici@gmail.com

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