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Canada Set to Repeal Conditional Permanent Resident Provision for Certain Sponsored Spouses/Partners

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A couple sits on a couch, each holding a mugProposed change would eliminate the cohabitation requirement, granting full permanent resident status to successful spousal sponsorship applicants.

A planned change to spousal sponsorship regulations demonstrates the government of Canada’s ongoing commitment to the successful integration of newcomers. By spring 2017, it is expected that the conditional permanent residence provision — which subjects certain sponsored spouses/partners to a cohabitation requirement of two years before full Canadian permanent residence may be granted — will be repealed.

Under the current regulations, if a couple applying for spousal sponsorship has been together for two years or less, and has no children in common, the sponsored spouse may receive conditional permanent resident status. Consequently, the couple must live together for two years following the sponsored spouse/partner obtaining conditional permanent residence, or the sponsored spouse/partner risks losing that status.

This planned change has been expected for several months. In May 2016, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) informed provincial governments of its intention to change the regulation. In its Forward Regulatory Plan released in mid-October, IRCC stated its intention to “[change] those provisions with the objective of addressing concerns that have been identified, such as the vulnerability of sponsored spouses.”

If the change is approved, it will apply to sponsored spouses and partners who are currently in Canada with conditional permanent residence, as well as to applications currently in process and future applications. Consequently, a sponsored spouse or partner who currently has conditional permanent resident status in Canada would have full permanent resident status after the change takes force, regardless of when he or she obtained conditional permanent residence.

Planned change aimed at supporting vulnerable newcomers

The conditional permanent residence provision was introduced on October 25, 2012. In the three years following the introduction, 58,128 spouses/partners, along with their children, were granted conditional permanent residence in Canada, representing almost half of all sponsored spouses/partners.

In a statement outlining the change, released by the government of Canada, it is explicitly acknowledged that this residence requirement can lead to sponsored spouses/partners remaining in abusive or neglectful relationships. While the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) allow for an exception to the residence requirement for sponsored spouses/partners in abusive relationships, the sponsored spouse must apply for this exception. The government’s statement recognizes that many spouses may not know about this exception, or may be reluctant to seek an exception.

Of the 58,128 sponsored spouses/partners who obtained conditional permanent resident status, 307 applied for an exception to the residence requirement due to abuse or neglect. Three-quarters of these applications came from women. So far, the government states, 260 of these applications have received a decision — 205 of them were approved. IRCC states that data indicates “that a number of sponsored spouses likely suffered abuse and neglect before they were granted an exception to the cohabitation requirement.”

Under the definition to be added to the IRPR, abuse may be physical, sexual, psychological, and/or financial.

Addressing doubts of program integrity

Conditional permanent residence was introduced as a safeguard against fraudulent spousal and common-law partner sponsorship applications. However, IRCC believes that its numerous other measures that are designed to identify fraudulent applications are sufficient. Moreover, the department states that it is not possible to determine whether the provision was successful in deterring fraudulent applications.

“On balance, the program integrity benefits of conditional permanent residence have not been shown to outweigh the risks to vulnerable sponsored spouses and partners subject to the two-year cohabitation requirement,” IRCC states.

“The proposed repeal of conditional permanent residence recognizes that the majority of relationships are genuine, and the majority of applications are made in good faith. Eliminating conditional permanent residence would facilitate family reunification, remove the potential increased vulnerability faced by abused and neglected spouses and partners, and support the Government’s commitment to combatting gender-based violence.”

IRCC’s attitude receives praise

“It is commendable that the government of Canada is actively working to ensure the comfort and safety of new permanent residents,” says Attorney David Cohen. “Immigration to Canada is a process that does not end upon landing at the airport. Settlement and integration is an exciting journey for many thousands of newcomers.

“Unfortunately, however, this is not the case for everybody. By eliminating the conditional permanent resident provision, IRCC is taking concrete steps towards reducing power imbalances in the spousal sponsorship system that disproportionately affect those newcomers who may otherwise feel trapped in abusive or neglectful relationships. The rationale behind IRCC’s action says as much as the action itself — this is a department which is continuing to show its commitment to building a stronger Canadian society.”

Find out more about spousal/common-law sponsorship.
To find out if you are eligible to sponsor your spouse/partner for Canadian permanent residence, fill out a free assessment form today.

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