Canada’s spousal and common-law partner sponsorship immigration program has been responsible for reuniting many thousands of couples and families, and is one of the many progressive features of Canada’s immigration system that set it apart from other nations’ policies. However, the spousal sponsorship immigration program is monitored to detect what are known as “marriages of convenience.”
A marriage of convenience is defined as a relationship that is entered into primarily for the purposes of immigration, and therefore is not genuine. Visa officers have a number of tools at their disposal to detect marriage fraud, including document checklists, interviews, and home visits. Coupled with these measures, IRCC has recently released detailed application packages for individuals sponsoring a spouse or common-law partner. These application packages, introduced in December 2016, clarify the document requirements for applicants.
According to the latest data from IRCC, 2,288 applications for spousal sponsorship were refused in 2015 because the applicants were deemed to be in a marriage of convenience. This represents 6.1 percent of all permanent residence applications that were refused that year. Between 2013 and 2015, 119,838 permanent residence applications were refused, of which 5.1 percent were in the spousal sponsorship class. As of January 8, 2016, 778 applications were being investigated under suspicion of a marriage of convenience.
The data clearly demonstrates that the vast majority of applications to sponsor a spouse or partner are recognised as genuine. IRCC’s overview as of June 2016 showed an approval rate of 86 percent for applications submitted under spousal/common-law partner and dependent child sponsorship classes.
There are two grounds for refusal of an application for spousal or common-law partnership, centred around the definition of a genuine relationship. A visa officer may refuse an application on the grounds that the relationship was entered into for the purposes of immigration, or is not genuine — i.e., a marriage of convenience. A second grounds for refusal occurs if a person breaks off a genuine relationship in order to enter into another relationship for the purposes of immigration, and then resumes the former relationship in order to sponsor that spouse/common-law partner for permanent residence.
Genuine couples may provide a wide range of documents and proofs of their relationship during the application process. Documents proving shared finances and shared property ownership or rental carry weight in an application, but a couple does not have to be living together at the time of submitting an application in order to prove a genuine relationship. Photographs, travel itineraries, insurance policies, wills, and further documents may all be considered in the processing of an application.
As the above brief overview of document requirements demonstrates, visa officers take a wide range of documents into account when assessing the genuineness of a relationship. If an officer is in doubt, he or she may request further documents. The applicants may also be called to interview — in which case, the spouses or partners are generally interviewed separately. Under the principle of procedural fairness, further documents or an interview are requested before a refusal may be issued, and the results of further documents or an interview may also result in a positive outcome for the applicants.
The government has set itself a target to welcome 64,000 new Canadians applying through the spousal/common-law partner and dependent child sponsorship classes in 2017. IRCC has introduced measures to improve the application and settlement process for sponsored spouses and common-law partners. These measures include decreasing application processing times to 12 months, and a commitment to repealing the conditional permanent residence clause in 2017.
“The current government of Canada is continually working to improve its family reunification programs, and seems to have succeeded already in a number of ways,” says Attorney David Cohen.
“The new application forms have clarified the application process for many, and couples who are intent on building a life together in Canada may be encouraged by the increasing transparency of the application process.
“Unfortunately, fraudulent applications and marriages of convenience do happen. However, as the numbers show, these make up a minority — and it is encouraging to see visa officers taking steps to ensure that such applications are detected. In doing so, they are strengthening the process for the many thousands of genuine couples and families looking to build a future together in Canada.”
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