A recent decision of the Federal Court of Canada illustrates the pitfalls of giving false or incomplete information when submitting an immigration application.
If a person makes such a mistake, s/he has to give a credible explanation for it. If the individual does not, s/he can be subject to a five-year ban on applying for any kind of status in Canada.
Ms. Carmen Muniz, a Mexican national, first came to Canada in 2013 on a visitor visa. She extended her stay through the next several years, through a variety of visitor, work, and study permits. However, around 2019, she applied for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) and visitor records to allow her to remain in Canada; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) rejected these applications, apparently because they had concerns Ms. Muniz would leave Canada at or before the expiration of her authorized stay.
After learning of this refusal, Ms. Muniz then applied instead for an electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). The online eTA questionnaire asks whether a person has ever been refused entry to, or extension of, one’s time in Canada (or any other country), or ever been asked to leave. Ms. Muniz replied negatively.
IRCC then sent Ms. Muniz a letter noting their concerns with this response and noting that she may be found inadmissible for failing to declare material information on her application. Ms. Muniz replied later the same day, confirming that she had indeed been refused a PGWP and explaining that she did not intend to lie, but had misunderstood the question.
IRCC rejected this claim, concluding that Ms. Muniz had committed misrepresentation and was therefore inadmissible to Canada for a period of five years. Ms. Muniz filed an Application for Judicial Review to the Federal Court. In her Application, she claimed the IRCC decision was unreasonable. Specifically, she contended that the reviewing IRCC Officer was obligated, but had refused to, consider that Ms. Muniz’s initial answer was an ‘innocent mistake’. She also claimed that the Officer ignored other factors, such as Ms. Muniz’s past record of compliance with Canadian immigration laws and the fact that IRCC knew anyways of her past refusals.
The Court swiftly dismissed the first line of argument. Claims of innocent mistakes are sometimes accepted as justifications for misrepresentations on immigration applications, however in this case Ms. Muniz had not explained how or why she had misunderstood the question. The Officer having identified a legitimate concern, the onus was on Ms. Muniz, not the Officer to explain it.
The second line of argument also failed. The Court found that while the reviewing Officer did not reference Ms. Muniz’s past compliance, there was no need to do so; the Officer was not required to compare various applications from various junctures in Ms. Muniz’s life. The fact IRCC already knew of Ms. Muniz’s prior refusals, meanwhile, did not relieve Ms. Muniz of the obligation to provide full and truthful information. As the Court put it, “Applicants cannot rely on the immigration system to catch their errors.”
Accordingly, the Court dismissed Ms. Muniz’s request and upheld the refusal.
This case shows the importance of providing accurate and complete answers when seeking an immigration benefit in Canada. Ms. Muniz had a considerable record of prior compliance with Canadian immigration laws but answered incorrectly to one question on a subsequent application. This error was sufficient to find that she had misrepresented herself and was therefore inadmissible to Canada. She failed to demonstrate why the Officer should have even considered that Ms. Muniz had made an ‘innocent mistake.’ Finally, it was not acceptable for Ms. Muniz to rely on the fact that IRCC had previously obtained the correct information anyway.
The bottom line: mistakes matter. Misrepresentation, even when relatively minor, can have very serious immigration consequences. A careful review by another party, such as an experienced immigration lawyer, can help avoid any complications.
If you are interested in learning more about this case (Muniz v. Canada (M.C.I.), 2020 FC 872), you can find it at https://canlii.ca/t/j9gx6.
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