Married newcomers to Canada better be in love or be prepared tough it out in the relationship for two years if they don’t want to be kicked out of the country.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is changing Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations to make a sponsored spouse stay in the relationship for at least two years once they receive permanent residence status, or they have to leave Canada. “For two years, you have to stay married,” said Winnipeg Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux, who heard the news on Valentine’s Day as a member of the standing committee on Citizenship and Immigration.
The government is bringing into force regulatory changes to deter marriage fraud, he said. It will impose a two-year “conditional residency” on sponsored spouses, common-law partners and conjugal partners.
If they don’t stay in a bona fide relationship, they’ll be removed by the Canada Border Services Agency, he said. Jilted spouses may be happy to see them get the heave-ho but victims of violent spouses could be in jeopardy, critics say. “This is just dangerous,” said Lamoureux. “The most vulnerable are those coming to Canada not knowing a soul.”
Newcomer and women’s advocates worry that the rule will make it more difficult for people to escape abusive relationships. Ten per cent of the abused women who seek shelter at Osborne House in Winnipeg are newcomers to Canada, said Barbara Judt, executive director. “We see it all the time,” Judt said Wednesday. “Women are brought over — maybe through an arranged marriage — and literally, they’re a prisoner in their own home.
They can’t go to the community — they hardly know the community,” she said “Fortunately, they end up at our door.” Judt wants to know what immigration officials will do when a spouse who’s been abused comes forward. “We need more clarification on that,” she said. “People working in the shelter need a better understanding for when we go to advocate on (a woman’s behalf)
.”The government is developing a process for allowing spouses to come forward without facing enforcement action but those and other details haven’t been worked out, said Lamoureux. Getting married to emigrate is against the rules and difficult to prove, Citizenship and Immigration said when it first proposed regulatory changes in March.
It needed to do more “to deter individuals who might otherwise use a marriage of convenience to circumvent our immigration laws, and to protect the integrity of our immigration system,” the department said in the Canada Gazette. “It forces women to stay in a violent or abusive relationship for fear they could be deported if they don’t do what their spouse says,” said Winnipeg’s Wanda Yamamoto, president of the Canadian Council for Refugees and executive director of Welcome Place.
“They have that threat hanging over them.” She said she’s not sure how the federal government will be able to work around the new regulations when an abused spouse leaves a marriage. “The problem is, especially when they’re sponsored through family class, some of that information doesn’t get to family members,” Yamamoto said. “They don’t know who they can trust — will it get back to their husband?” There are people who marry to get into Canada but, Yamamoto said, “it’s very sporadic.” She wants the federal government to provide some data if it’s taking such steps.
The Citizenship and Immigration Department says “firm figures” on the extent of marriage fraud are not available. Of the 46,300 immigration applications for spouses and partners processed in 2010, close to 16 per cent were refused for different reasons — “many” on the basis of evidence that the relationship was not bona fide.
By Carol Sanders, Winnipeg Free Press