Addressing Concerns About Marriage Fraud

(The following is an article that I wrote for Policy Options.)

On April 13, 2017, the Trudeau government fulfilled a campaign promise from the 2015 federal election by eliminating the status of conditional permanent residency from Canada’s family reunification immigration programs. From 2012 to 2017, under rules implemented by the previous Harper government, immigrants who were married or in a common-law relationship with a Canadian citizen or permanent resident for less than three years before being sponsored by their partner for permanent residency would become conditional permanent residents. The “condition” was that if they separated from their partner within two years of immigrating, they could lose their status and be removed from Canada.

The Trudeau government’s decision to end conditional permanent residency was treated with jubilation by most Canadian immigration lawyers and observers; many stakeholders remarked how callous and draconian the Conservatives were to have introduced such a measure in the first place. Indeed, the Liberal government stated when it repealed conditional permanent residency that it was taking this action to uphold its commitment to family reunification, support gender equality and combat gender violence. The implication, of course, was that the Conservatives did not care about any of these things.

Although I supported the repeal of conditional permanent residency, I believe that some of the criticism of the previous government has been unfair. Now that the dust has more or less settled, I hope to offer a more balanced summary of why the Conservatives introduced conditional permanent residency, why its repeal was a good thing and why those who are concerned about marriage fraud should have confidence in Canada’s immigration system.

Why conditional permanent residency was introduced

When the Conservatives introduced conditional permanent residency in 2012, their objective was to combat marriages of convenience. According to a regulatory impact analysis statement published in 2012, Canada’s immigration department processed approximately 46,300 applications in 2010 from people who wished to immigrate because they were the spouse or common-law partner of a Canadian. About 16 percent of these were refused, mostly because immigration officials determined that the marriages were not genuine and were instead entered into primarily for immigration purposes. As shown in tables 1 and 2, the separation rate for recently sponsored immigrants was much higher than the overall Canadian divorce rate during the years following a marriage.

Although the two tables offer a flawed comparison in that they measure different things, it is apparent that the separation rate for recent immigrants under Canada’s family reunification program was high from 2000 to 2010. This was especially so for relationships that the immigration officials had initially suspected were fake but where the prospective immigrant had won an appeal before an independent administrative tribunal. Therefore, it seems at least reasonable for the Conservatives to conclude that many people were slipping through cracks in program integrity safeguards and immigrating to Canada through fake marriages.

These statistics also matched what the Conservative government was hearing from ordinary Canadians. Jason Kenney, then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, conducted a series of town hall meetings in 2010-11 in which Canadian citizens and permanent residents lamented the treatment they had received from the immigrant partners they had sponsored. Some appeared to have been victims of organized crime. At a town hall that I observed, one woman even showed a scar from a bullet wound that she had sustained when she confronted the extended family of the person she had sponsored. I left the town hall with the clear impression that, rightly or wrongly, many Canadian sponsors were angry at an immigration system that they felt left them vulnerable to being victims of marriage fraud.

The Conservatives, in response, researched ways to strengthen the integrity of Canada’s family reunification programs. Noting that many other Western countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, had (and still have) conditional permanent residency programs for sponsored spouses and common-law partners, they implemented something similar.

How conditional permanent residency worked

In Canada, conditional permanent residency applied from 2012 to 2017 to spouses or common-law partners who were in a relationship of three years or less with their Canadian sponsor and had no children in common with their Canadian sponsor at the time that they submitted their sponsorship application. The condition required the sponsored spouse or partner to cohabit in a conjugal relationship with their sponsor for two years following receipt of their permanent resident status, regardless of how long the immigration application took to process. If they did not, they could lose their permanent resident status and be removed from Canada, unless there were significant humanitarian or compassionate reasons to let them stay.

Conditional permanent residency ceased to apply if there was evidence of abuse or neglect by the Canadian sponsor, or of a failure by the sponsor to protect their immigrant partner from abuse or neglect by the sponsor’s family members. Abuse was broadly defined and included physical, emotional and financial mistreatment.

2017 regulatory impact analysis statement reports that, from 2012 to 2017, 94,400 people were admitted as conditional permanent residents, representing approximately 52 percent of spousal and common-law partner sponsorship immigrants. During this time, 597 people requested an exception to the requirement to cohabit with their Canadian sponsor, due to abuse or neglect. Out of the 528 cases for which a decision had been made when the Trudeau government repealed the law, 78 percent of abuse exemption requests were approved.

Problems with conditional permanent residency

As soon as conditional permanent residency was implemented, it was clear that there were problems with the law, many of which were clearly unintended consequences. By far the most severe shortcoming of conditional permanent residency was that many people did not know about the abuse exception to the two-year cohabitation condition and, sadly, stayed in abusive situations to avoid deportation.

The second issue with the abuse exception was that some recent immigrants would make false allegations of abuse in order not to lose their status. In some cases the Canadian sponsors felt so terrible about ending a marriage or common-law relationship with a recent immigrant, knowing that this outcome would lead to the possible deportation of their partner, that they were even willing to participate in the fabrication. During one memorable consultation, a Canadian sponsor who wanted to amicably end his common-law relationship but did not want his partner to face removal from Canada went so far as to ask me how hard he would have to hit her in order for her to qualify for the abuse exception to conditional permanent residency. Frankly, I don’t think the Conservatives realized how far some people would go to stay in Canada, and how difficult it would be for immigration officials to adjudicate whether there was abuse.

Finally, the problem with conditional permanent residency that impacted the largest number of people was that it applied to those who were already inside Canada and who could have obtained permanent residency through economic immigration programs, but instead chose Canada’s family reunification stream because of faster processing times and the ability to work on open-ended work permits during processing.

For example, an international graduate who had been living here with her girlfriend for one year and working for a Canadian employer might have qualified under both the economic and the family reunification programs. From 2012 to 2015, however, the Conservatives frequently imposed application caps on certain economic immigration programs, and in some cases they even terminated whole classes of applications that were in processing. So it was not uncommon for many individuals to submit immigration applications under both economic and family reunification programs. Applicants who succeeded in being admitted through family reunification were then subject to conditional permanent residency, even though they had been working and living in Canada well before they had applied to immigrate. Unfortunately, the rules left some people trapped in relationships that they did not want to stay in. Such outcomes made it clear that the solution to marriage fraud should not be to impose hardship on all in order to catch a few.

Conclusion

While the repeal of conditional permanent residency might have caused some to think that the Liberals are soft on marriage fraud, it is important to note that the Trudeau government is maintaining two other significant measures that the Harper government introduced to address the issue.

The first Conservative reform that remains in place is the requirement that applicants must show that their marriage is genuine at the time of the visa officer’s assessment and that it was not entered into primarily for an immigration purpose. Before 2010, prospective immigrants had to prove only one or the other.

Second, in March 2012 the Conservatives introduced measures prohibiting immigrants who had been sponsored by a Canadian spouse or common-law partner from sponsoring a new spouse or common-law partner within five years after they immigrated. This change has prevented people from marrying a Canadian, immigrating to Canada, quickly divorcing the Canadian, travelling abroad, marrying someone else and then sponsoring that person to immigrate.

Given that both these reforms remain in effect, the Trudeau government’s approach to combatting marriage fraud can perhaps best be described as “three steps forward, one step back.” Supporters of both parties should have confidence that Canada currently has a system to combat marriage fraud that, while not perfect, generally works.

 


The Inside Canada vs. Outside Canada Sponsorship Process

One of the quirkier features of Canadian immigration law is the distinction between what is generally referred to as the “Inside-Canada Sponsorship” process and the “Outside-Canada Sponsorship” process.  The biggest myth is that if a couple is residing in Canada then they must use the “Inside-Canada Sponsorship” process.  This is not true.  However, each program contains advantages and disadvantages vis-a-vis the other, and I have provided a list of the key features and requirements of each program below.

 

Inside-Canada Process

Outside-Canada Process

The spouse/common-law partner must be in a genuine, conjugal relationship that was not entered into for the primary purpose of acquiring an immigration benefit. The spouse/common-law partner must be in a genuine, conjugal relationship that was not entered into for the primary purpose of acquiring an immigration benefit.
The spouse/common-law partner must reside together in Canada. The spouse/common-law partner do not have to reside together in Canada.  As well, once a common-law relationship is established, periods of separation will not change their common-law status if there is a short separation that does not sever the common-law partnership.
The applicant must live with the spouse/common-law partner inside Canada during the duration of processing. The applicant can live with the spouse/common-law partner inside Canada during the duration of processing, but does not have to.
The immigration paperwork is sent to a processing center inside Canada, and remains in Canada. The immigration paperwork is sent to a processing center inside Canada, and it then may be transferred to a visa post outside of Canada.
If the applicant has valid temporary resident status in Canada, and submits an application to extend that status inside Canada with the permanent residence application, then the applicant will have implied status during the processing of the permanent residence application, provided he/she does not leave Canada. If the applicant has valid temporary resident status in Canada, he/she must maintain his/her status. The process is separate from the permanent residence application, and there is no implied status for the duration of processing.
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will process the application even if the applicant does not have valid temporary resident status in Canada.  If an individual has an application in processing, and is detained by the Canada Border Services Agency for being without status, then the applicant will generally benefit from a 60 day deferral period, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada will endeavour to process the permanent residence application within 60 days. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will not process the application if the applicant does not have valid temporary resident status in Canada.
The current processing time is 12 months.  The Applicant will receive “first-stage approval” at around the half-way point if it is determined that the spouse/common-law partnership is bona fide, and the applicant will be entitled to an open work permit. Processing times vary depending on the visa post, and range from 4 months to 38 months.   There is no first-stage approval for the issuance of open work permits.
There is currently a pilot project in place to provide work permits to applicants who have valid temporary resident status after 2ish months of processing. The permanent residence application is completely separate from any ability to work in Canada.
There is no appeal right to the Immigration Appeal Division.  The only recourse is an application to Federal Court for judicial review. There is a general appeal right to the Immigration Appeal Division, except for refusals based on serious criminality, terrorism, national security, espionage, and similar serious matters.  The only recourse in those situations is an application to Federal Court for judicial review.
If the applicant leaves Canada and is for whatever reason denied re-entry by the Canada Border Services Agency, then the permanent residence application will be refused, and the applicant must start over from outside Canada. If the applicant leaves Canada and is for whatever reason denied re-entry by the Canada Border Services Agency, this will generally not impact the permanent residence application.

Can Refugees be Extradited?

As the legal community continues to debate whether Bill C-49 is constitutional, the Supreme Court of Canada has indirectly touched upon the issue in Németh v. Canada, a decision about whether a refugee can be extradited to his/her country of origin to face charges. The answer is yes.
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The Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement

On September 21, 2017 the immigration provisions of the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (“CETA”) came into effect.

Chapter 10 of CETA facilitates the temporary entry of business persons.  The European Union’s commitments are the most ambitious that the European Union has ever negotiated in a free trade agreement.  For Canada, CETA’s temporary entry provisions contain similar ideas to those contained in the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA“), although there are very significant differences.

CETA is significant from a Canadian immigration perspective because prospective foreign workers who are eligible for work permits under CETA do not require Labour Market Impact Assessments (“LMIAs“).  This means that companies do not have to first test the Canadian labour market before hiring a foreign worker, nor do they have to commit to labour market benefits.

Any Canadian businesses seeking to hire United States or Mexican nationals will typically begin by determining whether their prospective employees are eligible for work permits under NAFTA.  When CETA takes affect, the same will be true for Canadian employers hiring citizens from the European Union.

If you are a Canadian business seeking to employ a European Union national, or you are a European national seeking to work in Canada, the following are things that you should know about CETA.

1. CETA Contractual Service Providers will not need a LMIA to work in Canada for a 12-month period every 24 months.  

Contractual service providers are people employed by a European Union enterprise that does not have an establishment in Canada and that has signed a contract to supply a service to a consumer in Canada that requires the presence on a temporary basis of the European company’s employee in Canada.  To qualify for a LMIA exemption, the contractual service supplier must:

  • be a citizen of a European Union member state;
  • be engaged in the supply of a service on a temporary basis as an employee of a European Union enterprise which has obtained a service contract in Canada;
  • have been employed by the European Union enterprise for at least the year immediately preceding the date of entry into Canada;
  • generally possess a university degree or a qualification demonstrating knowledge of an equivalent level;
  • generally possess professional qualifications where such qualifications are required to exercise an activity pursuant to the law, regulations or other requirements of Canada, where the service is supplied; and
  • possess three years of professional experience in the sector of activity that is the subject of the contract.

The CETA Professionals Contractual Services Suppliers category applies to all occupations which Canada classifies as professional or managerial in the following thirty-seven sectors:

  1. Legal advisory services in respect of international public law and foreign law (i.e. non-EU law)
  2. Accounting and bookkeeping services
  3. Taxation advisory services
  4. Architectural services and urban planning and landscape architecture services
  5. Engineering services and integrated engineering services
  6. Medical and dental services
  7. Veterinary services
  8. Midwives services
  9. Services provided by nurses, physiotherapists and paramedical personnel
  10. Computer and related services
  11. Research and development services
  12. Advertising services
  13. Market research and opinion polling
  14. Management consulting services
  15. Services related to management consulting
  16. Technical testing and analysis services
  17. Related scientific and technical consulting services
  18. Mining
  19. Maintenance and repair of vessels
  20. Maintenance and repair of rail transport equipment
  21. Maintenance and repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles, snowmobiles and road transport equipment
  22. Maintenance and repair of aircrafts and parts thereof
  23. Maintenance and repair of metal products, of (non-office) machinery, of (non-transport and non-office) equipment and of personal and household goods
  24. Translation and interpretation services
  25. Telecommunication services
  26. Postal and courier services
  27. Construction and related engineering services
  28. Site investigation work
  29. Higher education services
  30. Services Relating to Agriculture, Hunting and Forestry
  31. Environmental services
  32. Insurance and insurance related services advisory and consulting services
  33. Other financial services advisory and consulting services
  34. Transport advisory and consulting services
  35. Travel agencies and tour operators’ services
  36. Tourist guides services
  37. Manufacturing advisory and consulting services

2. CETA Independent Professionals will not need a LMIA to work in Canada for a 12-month period every 24 months. 

Independent Professionals are self-employed individuals in the European Union who have contracts in Canada.  To be eligible to work in Canada as a CETA Independent Professional, a European Union citizen must:

  • be engaged in the supply of a service on a temporary basis as a self-employed person in Canada;
  • have at least six years professional experience in the sector of activity which is the subject of the contract;
  • possess a university degree or a qualification demonstrating knowledge of an equivalent level; and
  • possess professional qualifications where this is required to exercise an activity pursuant to the law, regulations or other requirements of the Party, where the service is supplied.

The CETA Professionals Independent Professionals category applies to all occupations listed which Canada classifies as managerial or professional in the following sectors:

  1. Legal advisory services in respect of international public law and foreign law (i.e. non-EU law)
  2. Architectural services and urban planning and landscape architecture services
  3. Engineering services and integrated engineering services
  4. Computer and related services
  5. Research and development services
  6. Market research and opinion polling
  7. Management consulting services
  8. Services related to management consulting
  9. Mining
  10. Translation and interpretation services
  11. Telecommunication services
  12. Postal and courier services
  13. Higher education services
  14. Insurance related services advisory and consulting services
  15. Other financial services advisory and consulting services
  16. Transport advisory and consulting services
  17. Manufacturing advisory and consulting services

Importantly, the CETA Independent Professionals category does not include the following sectors:

  • medical and dental services
  • veterinary services
  • midwifery services
  • services provided by nurses, physiotherapists and paramedical personnel
  • higher education services

3. CETA’s Intra-Corporate Transferee provisions will allow a multi-national company to transfer Senior Personnel, Specialists and Graduate Trainees to Canada

CETA’s Intra-Corporate Transferee (“ICT”) provisions are similar to Canada existing Intra-Company Transferee provisions, with the key distinction being that Graduate Trainees qualify as ICTs under CETA.

Natural persons who have been employed by an enterprise in the European Union, or who have been partners in it for at least one year, can be transferred to a subsidiary, branch, or parent company in Canada.  To qualify, the seconded employee must also be either a Senior Personnel, a Specialist, or a Graduate Trainee.

Senior Personnel will be allowed work permits valid for the lesser of 3 years, or the length of the contract, with a possible extension of up to 18 months. To qualify, a seconded employee must:

  • work in a senior position within an enterprise and primarily direct the management of the enterprise, a department or sub-division thereof;
  • exercise wide latitude in decision making, which may include having the authority personally to recruit and dismiss or taking other personnel actions (such as promotion or leave authorisations), and (i) receive only general supervision or direction principally from higher level executives, the board of directors and/or stockholders of the business or their equivalent, or (ii) supervise and control the work of other supervisory, professional or managerial employees and exercise discretionary authority over day-to-day operations.

Specialists will be allowed work permits valid for the lesser of 3 years, or the length of the contract, with a possible extension of up to 18 months.  To qualify, a seconded employee must:

  • possess uncommon knowledge of the enterprise’s products or services and its application in international markets; or
  • possess an advanced level of expertise or knowledge of the enterprise’s processes and procedures such as its production, research equipment, techniques or management.

Graduate trainees will be allowed work permits valid for the lesser of 1 year or the length of the contract, whichever is shorter.  To qualify, aseconded employee must:

  • possess a university degree; and
  • be temporarily transferred to Canada for career development purposes, or to obtain training in business techniques or methods.

4. CETA will allow European investors to obtain LMIA exempt work permits to start their business. 

European investors who are staying for an extended period in Canada can also obtain LMIA exempt work permits.  Investors are defined as those who:

  • will establish, develop, or administer the operation of an investment in a capacity that is supervisory or executive;
  • are the investor; and
  • are employed by an enterprise that has committed or is in the process of committing a substantial amount of capital.

A CETA investor work permit will be issued for one year, with possible renewals.

5. Business Visitors will Continue to be able to Travel to Canada

Under CETA, there are two categories of business visitors: short-term business visitors and business visitors for investment purposes.  Because CETA business visitors are in some cases more narrowly defined than general business visitors under current Canadian immigration law, officers will apply whichever type of business visitor provision is broader.

Specific examples of CETA short-term business visitors include those conducting independent research and design, those conducting marketing research, those engaged in most types of international sales and purchasing, tourism personnel and translators. It is important to note that the maximum length of stay of short term business visitors under CETA shall be 90 days in any six-month period.

A business visitor for investment purposes is an employee in a managerial or specialist position who is responsible for setting up an enterprise but who does not engage in direct transactions with the general public and will not receive direct or indirect remuneration from a Canadian source.

The above is just a summary of very complex free trade agreement provisions, and we strongly recommended that prospective applicants under CETA consult the IRCC website or a professional to see whether CETA encompasses them.

More information about CETA can be found here. 


Canadian Immigration Embassy Interview Strategies and Tips

When visa officers have concerns regarding a completed application, they often convoke interviews. The interview provides the applicants to address these concerns. In this post I hope to convey to applicants the basic procedural fairness rules that they can expect.
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Personalized vs. Generalized Risk

From the Big Picture

As the political situations in several Latin American countries worsens, there has been a steady increase in the number of refugee cases being decided on the issue of personalized vs. generalized risk.

Section 97(1)(b)(ii) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that a person in need of protection is a person in Canada whose removal to another country would subject them personally to a risk to their life or to a risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment if the risk would be faced by the person in every part of that country and is not faced generally by other individuals in or from that country.

The Federal Court has grappled with how to distinguish between personalized and generalized risk.

Proophete

As noted in Prophète v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2008 FC 331, the difficulty in analyzing personalized risk in situations of generalized human rights violations, civil war, and failed states lies in determining the dividing line between a risk that is “personalized” and one that is “general”.  What, for example, is the risk to an individual who has been targeted in the past and who may be targeted in the future but whose risk situation is similar to a segment of the larger population?  In Prophète, for example, Madam Justice Tremblay-Lamer, after much deliberation, determined that s. 97 can be interpreted to include a sub-group within the larger one that faces an even more acute risk.

Definition of Generliazed

Further complicating the issue is that there are varying definitions of what the word “generalized” means.  In Osorio v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2005 FC 1459, Justice Snider reiterated that there is nothing which requires the Immigration and Refugee Board to interpret the word “generally” as applying to all citizens.  She added: “The word ‘generally’ is commonly used to mean ‘prevalent’ or ‘widespread’. Parliament deliberately chose to include the word ‘generally’ in subsection 97(1)(b)(ii), thereby leaving to the Board the issue of deciding whether a particular group meets the definition. Provided that its conclusion is reasonable, as it is here, I see no need to intervene.

In Baires Sanchez v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), Justice Crampton further tightened the screws when he stated that in order to show that a risk is not generalized applicants must establish that the risk of actual or threatened similar violence is not faced generally by other individuals in or from that country, and that applicants must demonstrate that the respective risks that they face are not prevalent or widespread in their respective countries of origin, in the sense of being a risk faced by a significant subset of the population.

A good example of this principle can be found in Duarte v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2017 FC 500.  There, the Federal Court found that unique ineptitude can constitute a form of personalized risk.

Currently, one of the leading case on the matter is Portillo v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2012 FC 678. There, the Federal Court articulated a two-step test for determining generalized vs. personalized test. The Refugee Protection Division (the “RPD“) must first appropriately determine the nature of the risk faced by the claimant which requires an assessment of whether the claimant faces an ongoing or future risk, what that risk is, whether it is one of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment and the basis for the risk. Second, the correctly described risk faced by the claimant must then be compared to that faced by a significant group in the country at issue to determine whether the risks are of the same nature and degree.  As well, it will typically be the case that where an individual is subject to a personal risk to his life or risks cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, then that risk is no longer general.

 

 



Genuineness and Primary Purpose – The Disjunctive Test – Section 4(1) of the Regulations

Regulation 4(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (“IRPR“) state that:

4. (1) For the purposes of these Regulations, a foreign national shall not be considered a spouse, a common-law partner or a conjugal partner of a person if the marriage, common-law partnership or conjugal partnership

(a) was entered into primarily for the purpose of acquiring any status or privilege under the Act; or

(b) is not genuine.

There has been developing jurisprudence on the disjunctive nature of IRPR r. 4(1), including a recent Federal Court certified question on whether IRPR 4(1)(a) is ultra vires the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (“IRPA“), which provides that:

The objectives of this Act with respect to immigration are to see that families are reunited in Canada.

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