Last month, I represented a client accused of marriage fraud. More specifically, he was accused of “directly or indirectly misrepresenting or withholding material facts.” The letter he received from Citizenship and Immigration Canada alleged that his“…marriage to [his] sponsor… is not genuine and was entered into primarily for the purpose of acquiring entry into Canada as a permanent resident.”
Like many other couples from his culture, my client and his wife had an arranged marriage. It took place through a religious ceremony performed over the telephone, with members from both families in attendance in both Canada and abroad. After the wedding, his wife applied to sponsor him to join her in Canada. It took two years to process his application. Upon his arrival in Canada in 2006, he began living with his wife in her family’s home. The plan was for the couple to get their own place as soon as he got work in Canada.
Unfortunately, the job search did not go well. You may recall that 2006 was the year the US housing bubble burst, which by 2008 had led to a global recession. Especially for someone in IT, it was not a good time to be looking for work when you didn’t have any Canadian experience or education.
Meanwhile, as he was getting turned down for jobs, his wife, pressured by her family, began pulling away from him. For example, while he had formerly been invited to extended family events, he was now excluded. He was constantly pressured to find a “good job”. He left his wife’s family’s home because of this pressure. His wife refused to move in with him, saying she would only join when he was “stable”. Because of his depleting savings, he started taking on whatever work he could find. His wife’s family was mortified when he took a job at a gas station.
Eventually, his wife’s family had a lawyer draw up divorce papers. He refused to sign them, asking for more time to look for work and perhaps even go back to school. His mother and brother tried to meet with his wife’s family, but they refused to enter into a discussion even though they had come to Canada at great expense to meet with them. The divorce went through without his consent, on the grounds of their physical separation.
Is there anything in this story that seems like marriage fraud to you? There wasn’t to me. I provided legal submissions and documentary evidence to Citizenship and Immigration Canada about the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage. These submissions were accepted by the Officer. She acknowledged that he tried to reconcile with his wife, and that the divorce was not evidence that he had misrepresented facts when he applied to come to Canada.
But this client was lucky. He arrived in Canada prior to the enactment of the “conditional permanent resident measure”. This regulatory change allows Citizenship and Immigration Canada to remove permanent residence status from individuals who separate from their spouses within two years of their sponsorship to Canada. Had this measure been in place when my client arrived to Canada, his story may not have ended so well.
There are some exceptions to the conditional permanent resident measure. For example, couples who have already been together for two years at the time of the sponsorship, or who have a child together, are not affected. Also, if there is documented neglect or abuse, the sponsored spouse will not be deported. But unlike in this case, in the future, Immigration Officers will have much less discretion when they are asked to investigate cases of marriage fraud. Without question, there have been Canadian residents who have been victims of marriage fraud, and their stories are tragic. But we already had measures in place to deal with such allegations. Tacking the “marriage fraud problem” gave our Immigration Minister a lot of publicity. In the end, I wonder if that publicity will be the only positive outcome of these regulatory changes.