Immigration Minister John McCallum announced changes to the current sponsorship rules that require foreign partners and spouses of Canadian citizens to wait two years before they can apply for permanent residency in Canada. The new policy will allow the foreign partner or spouse to settle in Canada with their loved one as soon as they arrive in the country. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) will no longer be issuing conditional or provisional spouse visas.
It was previously not allowed due to the problem of fake marriages – a third of them from India and China – in which immigration applicants would apply to live in Canada on the basis of a marriage that was set up solely for the purpose of immigrating to Canada, a problem that was said to be abusing the immigration system as well as causing serious emotional and financial distress to people who unknowingly got involved in marriage scams thinking they had a new love interest, when in reality they were simply a ticket to a new country. Andrew Wlodyka, a former worker from the appeals division of the Immigration and Refugee Board, is concerned that scrapping the original policy will cause fake marriage applications to sky rocket once more. Unpublished reports show the two year delay had the intended effect of cutting the number of marriages of convenience.
Opponents branded the measures as racist and suggested they have put women at risk in abusive relationships as they were required to stay with a violent spouse for two years or lose their right to stay in Canada. Women’s rights campaigners say that this gave abusers more leverage to threaten and control their partners, and it was not objected to only on those grounds. In a world of international transportation, flights to other countries that take mere hours, multi-national business deals and global dating agencies that can be accessed at the click of a button, it is obvious that mixed heritage marriage would increase. We are no longer restricted to only our local communities and with the world at our fingertips some think that immigration laws should reflect this change in society and fully embrace people from different cultures.
It is a concerning fact that 64% of applicants given a conditional permanent visa with no assurance that they will be allowed to stay are women. Women from South Asia and Middle Eastern countries were twice as likely to be given a conditional visa. The disproportionate number of those from ethnic minorities shows undercurrents of racial bias in the service, despite the immigration authority using seemingly race-neutral language in their application forms. For the families affected, not having a real sense of permanency has to have put a strain on even the strongest of marriages. Women (or even men in some cases) dealing with domestic violence in their home have been deterred by two year waiting rules and conditional visas into maintaining a conjugal relationship with an abusive partner and staying in an unsafe home so that they continue to meet the conditions of their visa.
While the problem of sham marriages still exists, the government now has more effective ways to deal with it that do not endanger women, such as barring those who married by proxy via the internet, phone or post from applying and still applying a two year wait policy to any marriage that doesn’t seem to be genuine. The changes, which will be announced in the near future, will make Canada family immigration easier for everyone, fairer to ethnic minorities and safer for women and those in vulnerable situations while still maintaining the integrity of Canada’s immigration service.