Canada has just pronounced itself on how it views marriage fraud and its relationship to false sponsorships.
Do you remember the movie “Green Card,” starring Gérard Depardieu, in which the protagonist from France (Depardieu) married a U.S. citizen solely to obtain permanent residence (the “green card”) in the U.S.A.? Of course, à la Hollywood, in that movie the applicant ended up truly falling in love with the sponsor and they lived happily ever after. However, in real life, when there is marriage fraud, this almost never happens.
It is a fact that some foreign nationals enter into fraudulent marriages with U.S. or Canadian citizens (or permanent residents of Canada) in order to be sponsored for the long term. The conditional permanent residence rule, requiring that a foreign national reside with the sponsor for at least two years prior to a green card being issued, has been a part of U.S. sponsorship law for a long time. Until recently, Canadian immigration law, hoping to reduce the occurrence of marriage fraud, had a similar Regulation, requiring the sponsored person and his or her spouse to live together, for two years, as a condition to receiving the permanent residence. One exception was if they had a child together.
On April 18, 2017, the Canadian Government removed the two year cohabitation requirement. The liberal government of Canada sees this requirement as a possible threat to the safety and liberty of spouses who come to Canada. IRCC has also stated that it believes that most marriages are in good faith. One particular concern expressed by many, and adopted by the government of Canada, is that if a spouse was being abused in the marriage, he or she would feel forced to remain married and to co-habit in order to make sure they gain permanent residence, at their peril.
It is hard to balance the risk of marriage fraud and the risk to potentially abused spouses. On one hand, there are agencies abroad which fraudulently arrange false marriages to Canadians as a basis for sponsorship and extract huge sums for their fees in doing so. Under the current U.S. administration, many foreign nationals in the USA have become desperate, fearing that they could suddenly be deported by President Trump. The lack of a condition to securing PR in Canada is sure to increase the potential fraudulent marriages, we believe, in the current climate of fear.
On the other hand, in an abusive marriage, the concerns are real. According to Statistics Canada, the costs of spousal violence [against women] in Canada have been estimated at close to $5 billion annually. Research has shown that there are already numerous obstacles, both physical (unfamiliar with the country, financial restrictions, etc.) and psychological (dependency, fear, stigmatization, etc.) preventing an abused spouse from leaving the marriage. The two year condition on the sponsorship would seem to only add to these concerns. Now, the battered spouse would stand to lose her right to permanent residence if she left the marriage.
It appears that the Canadian government has now decided to err on the side of preventing furthering marital abuse to the risk of deterring fraudulent marriages.