Significant Changes Coming to the Spousal-Sponsorship Program

Fresh off his efforts to crack down on crooked consultants, and having just introduced legislation to deter “bogus refugees,” Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, is now focusing his scopes on deterring sham marriages.  He has made (or is in the process of making) two significant changes to Canada’s spousal-sponsorship program.  While both of his reforms will have its critics, the changes are likely to have the overwhelming support of the Canadian public, and continue the Conservative government’s trend of harmonizingCanada’s immigration system with other Western democracies.

The first change is a five-year sponsorship bar for recently sponsored spouses.  A previously-sponsored spouse will now be barred from sponsoring a new spouse or partner for the first five years that the previously sponsored spouse is a permanent resident.  The government’s objective is to prevent an individual who has been sponsored from divorcing the sponsor and shortly thereafter getting married and sponsoring someone else.

This change took affect on March 2, 2012.  If you were in the process of preparing a spousal-sponsorship application, and this change applies to you, then I’m sorry toinform you that there was no grace period. You will (likely) have to wait until you have been in Canadafor five-years before you can sponsor your spouse.

The second change is the introduction of conditional residency for certain spouses.  Spouses or common-law or conjugal partners who are in a relationship of two years or less with their sponsor will soon be subject to a period of conditional permanent residence.  The condition would require the sponsored spouse or partner to cohabit in a conjugal relationship with their sponsor for a period of two years following the acquisition of permanent residence status.  If this condition is not met, then the permanent resident and his/her dependents will lose their status inCanada, and be subject to removal proceedings.

There are two exceptions to the conditional permanent residency rule.  The first is if the sponsor and the sponsored spouse have a child together.   The second is if the sponsored spouse can demonstrate that he/she suffered abuse or neglect.  Abuse can be physical (assault and forcible confinement), sexual (sexual assault), psychological (threats and intimidation), and financial (fraud and extortion).   Neglect consists of the sponsor’s failure to provide the necessaries of life.

Implementing conditional permanent residency is expected to be an expensive endeavor.  Indeed, the government anticipates that the quantitative costs will exceed the benefits.  The Conservatives believe that it will cost $11-million to implement conditional permanent residency during its first ten years.  The costs include investigating cases of alleged fraud, taking enforcement action against those found to be non-complaint with the condition, and increased admissibility hearings and appeals.

The Conservative believe that the benefit will be $5.5-million during the same period.  The savings are expected to come from a reduction in spousal-sponsorship applications.

An additional benefit will hopefully be that Citizenship and Immigration Canada will be less scrutinizing of spousal-sponsorship applications.  In 2010, 46,300 couples submitted spousal-sponsorship applications.  Sixteen percent of applications were refused, primarily because the couples did not satisfy CIC that their relationships were genuine.  While some of the 84% of couples that were approved were likely sham marriages that slipped through the cracks, it is probable that an even greater number of genuine marriages were rejected.

The Immigration Appeal Division meanwhile recently released statistics showing that as of September 30, 2011, 6,399 spousal-sponsorship appeals were underway acrossCanada.  Each of these appeals takes up a serious amount of time and resources.

Presumably, once conditional permanent residency is in place Citizenship and Immigration Canada will be able to reduce the scrutiny that it apples to spousal-sponsorship applications.  For example, one would hope that an officer who has concerns about the genuineness of a relationship but is unsure will ultimately approve the application knowing that the principal applicant will have to cohabit in a conjugal relationship with the sponsor for two years or face removal.  Such a shift in mentality could greatly reduce processing times, save money, and decrease the burden on applicants.

Of course, whether or not there is actually a decrease in the burden on applicants will depend on how the government implements conditional permanent residency.  The proposed regulatory change is unclear as to whether immigrants have to be proactive in getting the condition removed, or whether the passage of time makes it automatic.  I shudder to think that all couples encompassed by the rule will have to submit new applications establishing the continuing genuineness of their relationship

Because of that is the case, then conditional permanent residency will be a far more expensive endeavor than the government is predicting.


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