New rules proposed for marriages involving immigrants
OTTAWA - The Harper government has quietly proposed that people coming to Canada to join their partner must stay in the relationship for two years or more before being formally granted permanent residence.
The planned regulatory move -- which follows a series of town halls and online consultations -- represents a federal bid to stamp out fraudulent marriages that are used to dodge immigration laws.
Under the proposal, a spouse or partner from abroad who has been in a relationship with the Canadian sponsor for two years or less would be granted only "conditional permanent residence."
The newcomer would then have to remain in a bona fide relationship with their sponsor for two years or more following arrival -- or risk having their permanent residence status revoked. In turn, this could lead to their removal from Canada.
A federal notice published just before the election writ was issued Saturday says the measure would "send a message that Canada is taking a strong stance against marriage fraud, and immigration fraud in general."
It would also bring Canada's policies in line with those of other countries, such as the United States, Britain and Australia, all of which already have a form of two-year conditional status for those in new relationships, the notice says.
The director of a legal clinic that serves the Asian community says the move will hurt women in violent relationships.
"It's going to be disastrous for women who are abused," said Avvy Go of the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic.
The federal notice says that given concerns about violent relationships, "a process for allowing bona fide spouses and partners in such situations to come forward without facing enforcement action" would be developed should the new measure be put in place.
But Go says many vulnerable women simply won't report abuse by their partners.
In addition, she doesn't trust immigration officers "who are not trained to deal with domestic violence situations" to decide whether or not a woman has actually fled an abusive relationship.
The public has 30 days to comment on the federal proposal.
The government says while most relationships are believed to be legitimate, the spousal sponsorship process is open to fraud.
In some case, both parties may be using the system for immigration purposes. In others, the sponsor thinks the relationship is genuine while the sponsored partner intends on breaking up shortly after gaining permanent residence status.
The government says "firm figures" on the extent of marriage fraud are not available. However, about 16 per cent of the 46,300 immigration applications processed last year were refused for various reasons.
Many were rejected because the relationship was considered a sham, while others were refused for reasons including criminal history, security and medical issues, the government says.
Last fall, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney held town hall meetings in Vancouver, Brampton, Ont., and Montreal to discuss marriages of convenience. His department also consulted the provinces and territories.
An online consultation drew 2,342 responses from the general public and 89 from interested groups.
The federal notice says respondents "expressed considerable concern" about marriages of convenience. "Most considered the issue to be a threat to the integrity of Canada's immigration system."
As an additional measure, the government proposes to introduce a "sponsorship bar" that would prevent sponsored partners and spouses from sponsoring a new partner for five years.