James Metcalfe - Director of ImmigrationJim Metcalfe – Pace Immigration: Immigration Canada recently announced changes to the way spousal sponsorship works in Canada. They have scrapped a rule passed in 2012 by the Conservatives that said a sponsored spouse must live with their Canadian sponsor for a probationary period of two years before they receive permanent residency.

The object of that 2012 law was to prevent fraudulent marriages, or “marriages of convenience,” where a spouse would arrive in the country under false pretenses and then scram right away.

The major concern that led to the 2017 rule change appears to be that spouses, mainly women, could be placed in abusive situations from which they could not escape for two years for fear of deportation from Canada.

I believe this was a good move as far it was advertised, though it should be noted that spouses did have an avenue of appeal for getting out of a bad situation without being deported:

In its first two years of operation, government data showed only 57 women submitted applications asking for exception to the two-year requirement based on a relationship of abuse and neglect. Of the 57 requests, 75 per cent were successful.

Marriage Fraud

The spirit of the rule change is a good thing: protecting women. However, the announcement puts us back to square one in that it does not address the problem of fraudulent marriages.

Bogus marriages do exist, sometimes with pretty stiff consequences for the people that get duped. This story from 2012 is an example of why the probationary period was put in place:

An 82-year-old B.C. pensioner is on the hook to the government for $25,000, after marrying a Russian woman who left him the day after she got permanent resident status in Canada.

“Several times I thought I will have a nervous breakdown over this,” said Heinz Munz, of Black Creek. Munz said he believes his now ex-wife used him, with the help of her daughter, to get legal status in Canada.

He is going public because the B.C. government is now forcing him to pay for social assistance she collected after she left.

Fraudulent marriages don’t always involve someone getting duped, either. Sometimes the sponsor is in on the act:

Li would have lived happily ever after except for Project Honeymoon, a 2008 investigation by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) that uncovered an alarming number of purchased marriages of convenience. In May, Toronto ringleader Wei Ren Z— aka Christine Ren and Christine Molson — was sentenced to two years less a day of house arrest for orchestrating an elaborate scheme where 130 Chinese students paid her between $30,000 to $35,000 each for marriage to a Canadian sponsor, complete with staged photos, hired actors and rented finery.

So yes, we should be concerned about fraudulent marriages.

Spousal Sponsorship Changes – Now What?

I think the upshot of this latest rule change will be longer wait times and more refusals for genuine spousal applications.

We have encountered cases in the past few years where visa officers – aptly named “program integrity officers” – have done extensive marriage investigations, including telephone calls to relatives, and in-person house calls to see who is living at the address given on an application. I now expect these investigations to become even more in-depth.

In a sense, the two-year probationary period was a safety net that visa officers had to ensure someone really wanted to be married to somebody before coming to Canada. Now that the net is gone, visa officers will have to concentrate on applicants and their spouses before they come to Canada. That means paperwork, much more intense interviews, subsequent application refusals, and appeals. All of that equals time. Get ready to wait in line.