Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has introduced a new regulation, which it hopes will deter people from scamming their way into Canada and at the same time benefit the victims of marriage fraud.
The new regulation applies to spouses or common-law partners, who, at the time they submit a sponsorship application, have been in a relationship of less than two years and have no children in common.
As of October 25, 2012 these sponsored spouses and common-law partners will be required to cohabit in a conjugal relationship with their sponsors for two years from the day they receive their permanent resident status in Canada. The permanent resident status may be revoked if the obligation is not met. Exemptions exist if the sponsored spouse or common-law partner can demonstrate that they have been the subject of abuse or neglect, or in the case of the sponsor’s death.
It is important to keep in mind that any system the government puts in place is subject to abuse. Unfortunately, that is the nature of the beast. Prior to the new regulation, the government shouldered the responsibility for preventing fraud of this kind by utilizing the considerable investigative and enforcement resources at its disposal. Additional responsibility fell upon the sponsor, who was (and still is) liable to repay the government for any financial assistance their spouse or common-law partner may receive for three years from the date that spouse or common-law partner becomes a permanent resident.
Under the new regulation, the government is abdicating its responsibility, or at the very least making its job a lot easier by shifting the burden of preventing abuse of the system onto the victims, be it the duped sponsor or the abused sponsored spouse.
Now, if the sponsor advises CIC that the relationship has fallen apart within the first two years in Canada, the assumption is that it was a marriage of convenience and the sponsored individual is subject to removal from Canada. Yes, the assumption can be overcome but the onus will be on the sponsored spouse to clearly demonstrate abuse or neglect by the sponsor. This is a serious shift in the burden of proof from the government onto the sponsored spouse or common-law partner.
As Janet Dench of the Canadian Council for Refugees has pointed out, the government’s efforts to deter marriage fraud are likely to have unintended negative consequences. More particularly, the new regulation will force innocent victims of domestic violence into staying with a domestic partner in order to maintain permanent resident status. Newcomers are often unaware of their rights and may not speak either of Canada’s official languages. They may be reluctant to get out of an abusive situation if their permanent residency ultimately rests on whether an immigration officer believes their story. Moreover, forcing a female divorcee to return home, depending on where home is, could negatively impact her social status.
Furthermore, the new rule fails to take into account that sometimes legitimate relationships, even between Canadians, just don’t work out. It’s not right to label a marriage as one of convenience just because it didn’t last for two years.
A few months ago, the government announced that Canadian Permanent Residents who were sponsored as a spouse or common-law partner cannot become a sponsor themselves until they have been a Permanent Resident for 5 years. Maybe we ought to leave it at that.
All things considered, it should remain the responsibility of the government to prove that a marriage is one of convenience. As for the Canadian sponsor…caveat emptor – buyer beware.