Sponsoring an Extended Family Member to Immigrate

It is generally well known that Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their spouses, common-law partners, children, parents and/or grand-parents to immigrate to Canada.

What is less well-known is that in certain circumstances it is also possible for a Canadian citizen or permanent resident to sponsor an extended family member to immigrate.

The “Lonely Canadian” Category

Under a program that is generally referred to as the “Lonely Canadian Program” or the “Other Relative Program” a Canadian citizen or permanent resident can sponsor one adult son or daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, niece or nephew to immigrate to Canada.  If that extended family member is married or has children, the person being sponsored can bring their immediate family with them to Canada. As well, the person being sponsored has to be related to the sponsor by blood.

In order to sponsor such a relative, however, the Canadian or permanent resident must show that they do not have a spouse, common-law partner, child, parent or grandparent or child who is either a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident, or who is a foreigner that can be sponsored.  For example, if a Canadian citizen is married they cannot sponsor their uncle to immigrate.  The program is designed to favour persons who do not have relations in Canada and have no possibility to sponsor immediate family.

The normal rules of sponsorship apply, and the Canadian sponsor would need to enter into an undertaking with the Government of Canada wherein they would commit to being financially responsible for their relative for a period of 10 years after they immigrate.

Ability to Sponsor a Parent

One issue that frequently arises in the Lonely Canadian Program is whether a Canadian can sponsor an extended relative to immigrate to Canada if that Canadian has a living parent or grandparent but is likely unable to sponsor them.  The answer is unfortunately confusing.

After several seemingly inconsistent decisions on the matter the Federal Court in Bousaleh v. Canada attempted to summarize the law by stating that if it is the Canadian sponsor who does not meet the requirements of sponsoring a parent or grandparent (due to, for example, financial issues) then the Canadian can sponsor their extended family member.  However, if it is the foreign parent or grandparent who does not meet the requirements of immigration (because of, for example, medical or criminal inadmissibility issues) then the Canadian cannot sponsor a different relative.

This seems like a somewhat unsatisfactory approach, and the Federal Court of Appeal is expected later this year or early next to answer the question of whether the determination of a Canadian’s ability to sponsor a relative under the Lonely Canadian program requires a visa officer to consider whether the Canadian’s hypothetical application to sponsor a parent or grandparent would have a reasonable chance of success.

A Caution

Our office has helped many people sponsor their extended relatives to immigrate. The result can be very fulfilling, and typically fills the Canadian sponsor with great pride.  However, on occasion Canadians have sponsored distant relatives who they may not know well. They may also have unrealistic, or insufficiently explained, expectations for how their relationship with their extended relative to proceed.   It is important that prospective sponsors understand that they remain financially liable for their extended relatives after they immigrate even if their relationship with their relative deteriorates and to make sure that they discuss any concerns and expectations that they have with their relative before sponsoring them.


Spousal Sponsorship and Social Assistance

Photo by George Vnoucek

Section 133 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (the “Regulations“) prohibit a Canadian citizen or permanent resident from sponsoring a foreign family member (generally a spouse, common-law partner, parent or grandparent) if that Canadian is in receipt of social assistance for a reason other than a disability.

The Regulations define social assistance as being any benefit, whether money, goods or services, provided to or on behalf of a person by a province under a program of social assistance. It includes assistance for food, shelter, clothing, fuel, utilities, household supplies, personal requirements and health care not provided by public health care.

Section 133(1)(k) of the Regulations do provide that a person can still sponsor a foreign family member to immigrate to Canada if the sponsor receives the social assistance because of a disability.

Financial Inadmissibility

However, s. 39 of Canada Immigration and Refugee Protection Act provides that a foreign national is inadmissible for financial reasons if they are or will be unable or unwilling to support themselves or any other person who is dependent on them, and have not satisfied a visa officer that adequate arrangements for care and support, other than those that involve social assistance, have been made.

As such, even if a Canadian sponsor is no longer receiving social assistance, or is receiving social assistance because of a disability, they still might be ultimately unable to sponsor their family member to immigrate to Canada.

Minimum Necessary Income

Unlike with the sponsorship of most foreign family members the Regulations provide that there is no minimum necessary income requirement to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner.

However, it is important given s. 39 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that people submitting applications under to sponsor their spouses or common-law partners under either the Family Class or the Spouse or Common-Law Partner in Canada Class ensure that they do not raise any flags regarding a possible financial inadmissibility.

For example, if a Canadian sponsor’s income was below Statistics Canada’s low-income cutoff, then the foreign national should take seriously the question of what their intended occupation will be after they immigrate.   

As well, although it is not typically mandatory in a spousal or common-law partnership application, if the foreign national is the principle breadwinner in the family then they should indicate this in the application, and provide proof of the foreign spouse’s or common-law partner’s earnings.

Examples of Financial Inadmissibility

Elayathamby Rasu v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) is a good example of how financial inadmissibility can work. There, the Canadian sponsor in the years leading up to the sponsorship of his wife earned around an average of $10,000.00 per year. In her application form, her wife, who spoke neither English or French, stated that she planned on being a housewife after she immigrated.  The visa office refused their application, a decision which the Immigration Appeal Division upheld.

Another impediment for Canadians whose income is well below to Statistics Canada’s low income cutoff for a region is where their foreign family members do not speak English or French and where their credentials may not be recognized in Canada. In Cheung v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration)a Canadian sponsor tried to argue to the Immigration Appeal Division that his wife, who was a nurse in her country of origin, had transferrable skills. However, the Immigration Appeal Division noted that her lack of English and the fact that it was not clear that she could actually work as a nurse in Canada meant that it was not clear that the family would not need social assistance.

Finally, as the Immigration Appeal Division noted in Phuoc v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration)it is open to immigration authorities to not consider, or at least give very weight to, evidence of Canadian income which has not been declared to the Canada Revenue Agency.

Other Disqualifications

Other things that can disqualify an otherwise eligible sponsor from sponsoring someone include:

  • The sponsor being subject to a removal order;
  • The sponsor being detained in any penitentiary, jail, reformatory, or prison;
  • The sponsor have previously been convicted of a specified offence (such as a sexual offense);
  • The sponsor being in default of spousal or child support payments;
  • The sponsor being in default of a debt owed under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act;
  • The sponsor being an undischarged bankrupt;
  • The sponsor being in receipt of social assistance other than for reasons of a disability; and
  • The sponsor being in default of a of a previous sponsorship undertaking.

Humanitarian & Compassionate

A family that might not be able to reunify in Canada, either because the Canadian receives social assistance or because there is a probability that they will be found to be financially inadmissible to Canada, should not give up.

As with all immigration applications, it is possible that there could be sufficient humanitarian & compassionate factors to supersede the inadmissibility.


Open Marriages and the Family Class

 

Canadian immigration law allows people to sponsor their spouses or common-law partners to immigrate to Canada.  A question that often arises is whether open relationships count.

Multiple Spouses or Common-Law Partners

Canadian immigration law is clear that a person cannot have more than one spouse or more than one common-law partner for the purpose of immigration. .

Section 119(9)(c) of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations provides that a person cannot sponsor someone if the prospective immigrant is the Canadian’s spouse and (i) the sponsor or the foreign national was, at the time of their marriage, the spouse of another person, or (ii) the sponsor has lived separate and apart from the foreign national for at least one year and either the sponsor is the common-law partner of another person or the foreign national is the common-law partner of another person.

On the issue of polygamous marriages, section 13.2 of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s Overseas Processing Manual 2 – Processing Members of the Family Class (the “Guidelines”) further states that:

Polygamous marriages

Officers must counsel both parties that polygamy is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. R117(9)(c)(i) states that a spouse is not a member of the family class if the spouse or sponsor was already married to another person at the time of the subsequent marriage. This regulation prohibits a second (or third, etc.) wife from being recognized as a spouse within the family class and provides that only the first marriage may potentially be recognized for immigration purposes.

In order for the first marriage to be recognized as legally valid under Canadian law, the couple must live together in a monogamous marriage in Canada. Common law imparts that a polygamous marriage can be converted into a monogamous marriage provided that the couple live together in a monogamous relationship from the time of arrival in Canada. This conversion is effected by the stated intention of the parties to so convert their marriage, followed by some factual evidence that they have complied—usually by divorcing the other spouses and/or by a remarriage in a form that is valid in Canada.

The decision to refuse must be based on the balance of all evidence, and not solely because the applicant did not obtain a divorce. The parties must understand that refusal to provide such evidence may result in a refusal of their application.

A polygamous second (or third, etc.) marriage cannot be converted to one of monogamy. If a husband wishes to sponsor a wife other than his first as a spouse, he must divorce his other wives and remarry the chosen wife in a form of marriage that is valid in Canada. He and his chosen spouse must sign a declaration to that effect.

When a sponsor and applicant have been practising polygamy and there are children existing from several spouses, officers must caution the sponsor and the spouse being sponsored that other spouses will not be eligible for immigration to Canada even if their respective children are sponsored. Officers must explain that separation of children from their mothers will likely be permanent, and counsel the sponsor and applicant to consider the consequences of that separation on the children. If the children nonetheless are sponsored, and if one of these children subsequently sponsors their respective mother, this mother must be cautioned that she will have no spousal status and related legal protection in Canada and that she will not be eligible for support or other benefits that also flow from marriage under Canadian law.

The prohibition against polygamy in the Regulations, and the lack of recognition of all spouses except the first, cannot be avoided by processing a second spouse as a common-law partner. Legally, it is not possible to establish a common-law relationship that meets the definition of such in terms of conjugality, where one or both parties are still living in a pre-existing conjugal relationship. The notion of conjugality has within it the requirement of monogamy; therefore, it is only possible in law to establish a new common-law relationship after a person is either divorced or separated from the spouse or common-law partner and where they have convincingly formed the intention not to continue with that previous relationship.

An already existing marriage, uninterrupted by separation, divorce or death, is a barrier that cannot be overcome when assessing a second spouse as a common-law partner. However, where such a barrier is removed (i.e., a first wife is subsequently divorced or is deceased), a husband and second wife could choose either to remarry, or could potentially meet the definition of common-law partner (i.e., where a husband was separated from a first wife and lived with a second wife in a bona fide conjugal relationship for one year after the separation from a first wife). Because a subsequent marriage (where the first is continuing) is not valid in Canadian law, persons in such a scenario would be considered as single in law and thus, they would have to remarry to be considered married under Canadian law.

Section 5.42 of the Guidelines further states that:

5.42. Simultaneous common-law or conjugal partner relationships with two or more people (polygamous-like relationships)

A common-law or conjugal partner relationship cannot be established with more than one person
at the same time. The term “conjugal” by its very nature implies exclusivity and a high degree of
commitment; a conjugal relationship cannot exist among more than two people simultaneously.
Polygamous-like relationships cannot be considered conjugal and do not qualify as common-law
or conjugal partner relationships.

 

Open Relationships

Suppose someone is in a common-law partnership or a marriage, but that the relationship is an open one.  IRCC’s manuals emphasize that in order for a relationship to qualify for Canadian sponsorship purposes the relationship must be conjugal, and that in order for the relationship to be conjugal the relationship must be mutually exclusive.

While the Guidelines are silent on the issue of open marriages and open relationships, the Immigration Appeal Division has held that whether a relationship is open is just one factor in determining whether a relationship is genuine or if it was entered into for Canadian immigration purposes, and that the only part of whether an open sexual relationship could result in a relationship not being conjugal would be if both parties did not mutually agree or recognize that the relationship was open.

As such, Canadians wishing to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner and who are in an open relationship with that person should simply ensure that they do an especially good job of demonstrating that they are in a conjugal relationship, by showing the interdependence in the relationship,  the co-mingling of finances, the public recognition of their relationship and the other factors mentioned in the Guidelines.

 

 


Spousal Sponsor is Pregnant with Someone Else’s Child

When someone sponsors their spouse or common-law partner to immigrate to Canada, it can often be difficult to determine how detailed one’s application should be.  Should one include every aspect of their relationship history, including marital difficulties?  What about instances of fidelity?

Several Federal Court of Canada decisions involving cases of alleged misrepresentation against applicants offer guidance on this topic.

In Chen v. Canada (Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness),(“Chen“), Mr. Chen, a Chinese citizen, married Ms. Zou, a Canadian permanent resident. Ms. Zou then sponsored Mr. Chen for permanent residence.  While Mr. Chen’s application was in processing, a friend told him that his wife had been seen “in the company” of another man in Toronto.

When Mr. Chen arrived in Canada, he discovered that his wife pregnant with another man’s child.  According to Justice Harrington, Mr. Chen was willing to forgive his wife, and asked her to get an abortion. She refused. On many occasions she made sexual overtures to him but he was both unwilling and unable to perform. Ms. Chen “taunted Ms. Zou’s lack of manhood.”

As one would expect, the marriage shortly dissolved thereafter.

After the divorce, Mr. Chen married an old flame in China.  He then attempted to sponsor her for Canadian permanent residency.

Unfortunately for Mr. Chen, Canadian immigration authorities not only disallowed his new wife’s application, but also declared Mr. Chen to be inadmissible to Canada for misrepresentation in his own immigration application.

Essentially, the Canada Border Services Agency (“CBSA“) alleged that Mr. Chen’s first marriage to Ms. Zou was not genuine, that Mr. Chen lied to enter Canada, and that his permanent residency should accordingly be revoked.  Specifically, the CBSA was suspicious because Mr. Chen did not have a wedding reception upon arriving in Canada, he did not confront his wife about the rumours before he left China, and he did not return to China once his marriage to Ms. Zou dissolved.

Justice Harrington, however, held that in determining whether a marriage is genuine for the purposes of immigration, one has to consider whether the marriage was genuine in the first place, and whether it was still genuine when the Applicant arrives at a Canadian port of entry.

Regarding Mr. Chen’s failure to disclose to immigration officials the possibility of Ms. Zou having an affair, Justice Harrington noted that at the time of the interview Ms. Zou having an affair was only a rumor, and that the duty of candour did not oblige Mr. Chen to share mere worries.  As Justice Harrington wrote,

As to not sharing the rumours with the officer at the time of his interview, what material fact did he withhold? The only fact was that he had heard rumours. Even if they were true, it did not mean that the marriage was necessarily at an end. The Divorce Act specifically contemplates the possibility of reconciliation and the divorce papers jointly signed by the parties, which are to be found in the tribunal record, contain their joint statement that reconciliation was not possible.

In Osisanwo v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), a similar issue arose. There, a Canadian citizen filed an application to sponsor his parents to immigrate to Canada.  He included his birth certificate in the application to show that the people that he was applying to sponsor were his parents.  Ultimately, immigration officials required DNA testing, which showed that while his mother was indeed his mother, he was not his “father’s” son. Immigration officials determined that this constituted misrepresentation.

Justice Hughes, disagreed.  He noted that DNA testing proved that the mother was really the Canadian child’s mother, that the “father” had raised the child, and that the “father” had no reason to suspect that he was not the person’s biological father. As Justice Hughes noted:

History is replete with children born to and raised by a married couple, believing it to be their own. Must an applicant seeking entry into Canada disclose every extra-marital relationship conducted at a time where there is any possibility that a child might have been fathered by someone other than the husband? Surely our society has not found itself at that point.

The above two cases should not be taken to mean that applicants can never disclose extra-marital affairs when they apply to immigrate to Canada.  In Kawech v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration)the Federal Court of Canada had to address a situation where someone failed to disclose the existence of a long-standing mistress.

Mr. Kawech, a Tunisian, married Ms. Charlotte, a much older woman who could not have any children.  Mr. Kawech also had a long-standing mistress with whom he had children.  Mr. Kawech did not mention the existence of this affair during the processing of his spousal sponsorship application.  When immigration officials eventually discovered it, they determined that his marriage to Ms. Charlotte was not genuine.

Madam Justice Gleason agreed, and determined that while applicants did not need to disclose every extra-marital incident, that a long-standing affair could reasonably cast doubt onto the genuineness of a marriage.

These three cases, and a string of similar cases at the Immigration Appeal Division, show that when completing their immigration paperworks applicants should keep in mind that in assessing the genuineness of a marriage there may be a difference between those who have one-night stands or flings, and those who are in extra-marital relationships that last close to one year.

As also shown above, the issue of extra-marital affairs in spousal sponsorship applications also goes beyond simply impacting whether a marriage is genuine.  A father who is informed by Canadian immigration officials that he is both not the biological parent of his child, which by itself would be devastating, may also discover that he is also banned from Canada for misrepresentation because he did not disclose what he did not know in his immigration application.

Fortunately, as long as applicants can show that they both (a) did not know that they were not the biological parents of their child and (b) that this belief was reasonable, the innocent mistake defence to misrepresentation would likely apply.


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.

Family Class Undertakings

On June 10, 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Canada (Attorney General) v. Mavi.  The case involved an appeal from numerous Ontario residents regarding relief from the sponsorship undertakings that they had signed to sponsor a family class member.

Potential immigrants under the family class are only eligible to apply for permanent residency once a Canadian citizen’s or permanent resident’s application to sponsor them has been approved.  Family class immigrants are not assessed independently on their ability to support themselves, as is the case with other immigrants.  The burden of showing sufficiently financial wherewithal lies with the sponsor.

I have yet to witness a case where a client showed concern about the sponsorship undertaking.  Usually the undertaking is treated as a joke, and sponsors normally tease their spouses / family members about not becoming “welfare bums”.  However, as the cases of the individuals in Mavi show, breaches of the sponsorship undertaking can often lead to huge debts.  Mavi involved individuals in the following circumstances:

  • Mr. D sponsored his fiancee in 2002.  When she arrived in Canada she refused to live with him or marry him.  Mr. D tried to have his former fiance deported, however, her appeal was successful.  Unbeknown to him, she later went on social assistance.  In 2007, the Ontario government informed him that he owed $10,510.65 for breach of the undertaking.
  • Ms. E sponsored her father, mothers, and two brothers in 1995.  Her husband was a co-signatory.  She later left him because of abuse.  She went on social assistance afterward, as did her father, and one brother.  In 2006 she was informed that she owed the Ontario government $94,242.16 for breach of the undertaking.
  • Mr. G sponsored his mother in 1999.  He subsequently lost his job.  His mother applied for social assistance.  In June 2007 he was informed that he owed $54,426.39.
  • Mr. H’s wife arrived in Canada in 2006.  She briefly lived with him, then cut off contact.  Unbeknown to him, she later remarried, and then went on welfare.  In 2007, he was informed that he owed the Ontario government $10,547.65 for breach of the undertaking.
  • Ms. H sponsored her mother, who shortly after had a stroke.  She applied for benefits for her mother’s institutional care.  She later learned that she owed the government $54,559.99.
  • Mr. M sponsored his father in 1996.  After his father arrived, they had a falling out.  In 2005 he learned that his dad had gone on social assistance.  He owed the Ontario government $17,818.08.
  • Mr. Z’s spouse arrived in Canada in 2000, only to leave a few weeks later and remarry.  In 2007, Mr. Z found out that she had gone on welfare, and that he owed the Ontario government $22,158.02.

The provincial governments are generally very strict about enforcing these obligations, and the courts too have not been very forgiving.  In paragraph 41 of the Mavi decision, Justice Binnie noted that:

Family reunification is based on the essential condition that in exchange for admission to this country the needs of the immigrant will be looked after by the sponsor, not by the public purse.  Sponsors undertake these obligations in writing.  They understand or ought to understand from the outset that default may have serious financial consequences for them.

The court then went on to articulate some principles that underlie sponsorship undertaking debt collections.  Before signing the sponsorship undertaking, sponsors should therefore be aware of the following principles which I have pulled out from the judgement:

  • The government has the ability to delay enforcement action having regrading to the sponsor’s circumstances and to enter into agreements respecting terms of payment.  As the court noted in paragraph 59, “the amount and terms of repayment are within the discretion of the government decision maker. An agreement requiring a sponsor to pay $20 a month on a $20,000 debt may never result in the full amount being paid, but it would nonetheless be an agreement which the government is authorized to make”.
  • The government does not, however, have the ability to simply forgive the debt.  Section 135 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations simply does not allow for write-offs, but only “deferred enforcement” along the lines of the above point.
  • The deferral of enforcement can be ended if the sponsor’s financial circumstances change.  The decision notes the example of a sponsor winning the lottery.
  • Prior to filing a certificate of debt with the Federal Court, the government must notify the sponsor of its claim, provide the sponsor with an opportunity to explain in writing his or her relevant personal and financial circumstances that are said to mitigate against immediate collection, to consider any relevant circumstances brought to its attention (while keeping in mind that the undertaking was the essential condition precedent to allowing the sponsored immigrant to become a permanent resident), and to notify the sponsor of the government’s decision regarding how it is going to collect the debt.
  • In carrying out the obligations above, the government does not have an obligation to provide written reasons.
  • There is no hearing, and no appeal procedure.
  • In the case of “rogue family members”, or family-class immigrants that have cut off contact with their sponsors, the government does not have a duty to advise sponsors that the rogue family member has started to receive social assistance.  Pursuant to paragraph 76, “the risk of a rogue relative properly lies on the sponsor, not the taxpayer”.

British Columbia and Sponsorship Default Debts

In British Columbia, the Ministry of Finance, Non-Tax Collections collects unpaid sponsorship default debts on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development. I have had experience contacting them on behalf of individuals before, and my experience has been that they already follow the principles articulated in Mavi.  They are quite flexible when it comes to scheduling payments over a period of time, however, they are unwilling / unable to simply forgive amounts owed.  When I advised one representative that my client simply could not pay, the respond was not surprising: “declare bankruptcy”.

Individuals that are contacted by the Ministry of Finance are provided with the opportunity to explain their financial circumstances, and to arrange a payment schedule.

If payments are not made, then the Ministry may take the following actions:

  • place a notice of Crown Debt on your property;
  • issue a demand on your wages, bank account or other accounts;
  • set off funds owed to you by the provincial or federal government;
  • issue a Small Claims Action (less than $25,000) or a Supreme Court Action (over $25,000);
  • file a Payment Order or Default Order in Small Claims Court or Supreme Court; and/or
  • seize and sell your assets.

Illegally Obtained Welfare

Finally, as the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found in Wright v. Wright, it is important to note that a sponsor will need to repay a provincial government even if the permanent resident obtained the welfare payment through fraud.

 


Conditional Permanent Residency for Some Spousal Sponsorships

On October 26, 2012, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC“) implemented conditional permanent residency for certain people who immigrate to Canada under the spousal-sponsorship program.  The implementation of conditional permanent residency took affect on October 25, 2012, the day prior to CIC publicizing it.   The change was not retroactive, and will not affect sponsorship applications which were received by CIC prior to October 25, 2012.

CIC has stated that the goal of introducing conditional permanent residency is to reduce instances of marriages of convenience.

What Conditional Permanent Residency Is, and Who it Applies to

Conditional permanent residency applies to individuals who are the spouse, common-law, or conjugal partner of their sponsor for two years or less when they submit their sponsorship applications and who do not have children in common with their sponsor when they submit the sponsorship applications (“Conditional Permanent Residents“).  Conditional Permanent Residents are required to cohabit in a conjugal relationship with their sponsors for a continuous period of two years after the day on which they become permanent residents (the “Condition“).  If CIC determines that Conditional Permanent Residents have breached the Condition, CIC will declare them inadmissible to Canada, and removal proceedings will be initiated.  Conditional Permanent Residents are able to appeal such decisions to the Immigration Appeal Division, which can consider humanitarian & compassionate considerations.

Specifically, the Condition applies if the couple does not have any children in common and:

  • has been married for two years or less;
  • dated for four years, but has been married for two years or less;
  • has been in a conjugal relationship for two years or less;
  • has cohabited in a common-law relationship for two years or less; or
  • has been in a common-law or conjugal relationship for more than two years and has been married for less than two years, and the person submitted an application as a spouse.

The Condition does apply if the couple

  • has been married for more than two years;
  • has been in a conjugal relationship for more than two years and the person submitted an application as a conjugal partner;
  • has cohabited in a common-law relationship for more than two years and the person submitted an application as a common-law partner; or
  • has children in common.

Having the Condition Removed and Investigations

At the end of the two-year period, a Conditional Permanent Resident does not have to submit an application to CIC to have the Condition removed.  Instead, CIC automatically removes the Condition after two years if there is no ongoing investigation into whether the Conditional Permanent Resident complied with the Condition.

CIC conducts an investigation into a Conditional Permanent Resident either as a result of a random assessment, or as a result of information that CIC receives which leads it to suspect that a Conditional Permanent Resident breached the Condition.  During an investigation into whether a Conditional Permanent Resident complied with the Condition, the immigrant must provide evidence of their compliance with the Condition.  In other words, the sponsored spouse or partner must provide evidence that he or she cohabited in a conjugal relationship with their sponsor for the two-year period following the individual immigrating to Canada.

CIC may also conduct an investigation into a permanent resident after it has already removed the Condition from the permanent resident’s file if it receives information that the Conditional Permanent Resident breached the Condition.

Permanent residents who are the subject of ongoing investigations into whether they were previously Conditional Permanent Resident who breached the Condition may not be granted citizenship.

In other words, while the Condition will be automatically removed after the two-year period (which will save most individuals the need to complete extensive paperwork), CIC can still commence an investigation and depending on the results of the investigation instigate removal proceedings against a person who it believes breached the Condition even after the two-year period has elapsed.

Exemptions 

To reiterate, the Condition will not apply to people who have been the spouse, common-law, or conjugal partner of the sponsor for two years or more, or, if they have been in such a relationship for less than two years, have a child together.

The Condition will also cease to apply to Conditional Permanent Residents where there is evidence that the sponsor died during the two-year period, in instances where there is evidence of abuse or neglect from the sponsor, or in instances of a failure by the sponsor to protect the Conditional Permanent Resident from abuse or neglect by another person related to the sponsor.

CIC has provided extensive definitions of what consitutes “abuse” or “neglect” that are beyond the scope of this newsletter.  We have provided at the end of this newsletter a link to the relevant CIC Operational Bulletin which discusses the introduction of conditional permanent residency. . 

More information on conditional permanent residency can be found in Operational Bulletin 480.

We have reproduced the training material for Operational Bulletin 480 below. Please note that the reproduction did not occur with the affiliation of the Government of Canada, and should not be viewed as legal advice.