What are marriages of convenience?

By Sukhram Ramkissoon

One of the goals of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) is to help reunite families. For this reason, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their spouse to become a Canadian permanent resident.

Some people abuse spousal sponsorship by entering into marriages of convenience, so that they can sidestep Canada’s immigration law.

Marriages of convenience usually take one of two forms:

  • A couple pretends to be in a genuine relationship so the sponsored spouse can come to or stay in Canada. In some cases, the sponsor may be given a financial or other kind of benefit in exchange for the sponsorship;
  • One of the partners enters the relationship in good faith, while the other is using the relationship only to gain permanent status in Canada. This victimizes the sponsor.

In both cases, the relationship often ends shortly after the sponsored person arrives in Canada. These relationships weaken the immigration system and make the process more difficult for genuine immigrants.

What is conditional permanent residence?

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has introduced amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (the regulations) which apply to spouses, common-law or conjugal partners in a relationship of two years or less with their sponsor and who have no children in common with their sponsor at the time they submit their sponsorship application.

The sponsored spouse must cohabit in a legitimate relationship with their sponsor for two years from the day on which they receive their permanent resident status in Canada. If they do not remain in the relationship, the sponsored spouse’s status could be revoked.

The conditional measure only applies to permanent residents whose applications are received on or after Oct. 25, 2012 – the day the amendments came into force.

Aside from the need to satisfy the two-year requirement, conditional permanent residence does not differ from normal permanent residence.

These sponsored spouses have access to the same rights and benefits as other permanent residents. They will be allowed to work and study without a work or study permit; they will not be subject to different tuition fees in post-secondary schools; and they will have the same access to health coverage and social benefits, including social security (or income support).

If the relationship breaks down, the sponsor remains financially responsible until the end of the three-year undertaking period, irrespective of the cause of the breakdown.

Enforcement and penalties

As a result of the introduction of conditional permanent residence, additional investigations may be undertaken in cases where there is reason to believe that the condition is not being met or has not been met.

CIC plans to perform random assessments of the overall level of compliance on an ongoing basis.

The measure also provides another means for enforcement action in instances of marriage fraud, including issuing removal orders to fraudulent spouses on the basis of non-compliance. This could in turn lead to their removal from Canada.

The condition ceases to apply if the sponsor dies during the two-year conditional period and the CIC officer determines, based on evidence, that the sponsored spouse remained in a legitimate relationship with the sponsor until the sponsor’s death.

Given concerns about the vulnerability of spouses in abusive relationships, the proposed condition would cease to apply in instances where there is evidence of abuse (that is, physical, sexual, psychological or financial) or neglect (failure to provide the necessaries of life).

In my next column I will address a case where a person was sponsored by his wife to Canada. He received his landed status on condition that he resided with his spouse for a period of two years.

However, he was thrown out of the matrimonial home 10 days after cohabiting with his spouse.   He was found to have breached the condition of his stay after a hearing by the Immigration Division and was ordered removed.

However, upon appeal the removal order was set aside as the Appeal Division found he did not breach his condition of stay.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Sukhram Ramkissoon is a member of ICCRC and specializes in immigration matters at 3089 Bathurst St., Suite 219A, Toronto. Phone 416-789-5756.

Sukhram Ramkissoon
Sukhram Ramkissoon