Reasonable Doubt: The costs of marriage fraud
“Snowflake! Marry me! Carry me to Canada! Snowflake!”
Apparently, while living in South America, I was so desirable that strangers were overcome with an irresistible urge to propose. I have since come to suspect that they may have had other motives. It is an unfortunate blow to the ego that since returning to Canada my stranger proposal tally remains at zero.
So what if I had done that handsome bartender a favour and married him for citizenship? (It was tempting.) What if he had then arrived in Canada and left me? (Impossible! He said he loved me.)
Canada allows eligible citizens or permanent residents to sponsor their spouse for permanent residency. A “spouse” for immigration purposes is someone you are legally married to according to the laws of the country in which you were married, a common-law partner, or, in exceptional cases, a conjugal partner. Common-law partners must prove they have been living together in a conjugal relationship for at least one year. Conjugal partners are couples who, for reasons beyond their control, are prevented from living together as spouses. An example of conjugal partners may be a couple that are not married and cannot live together because both were refused long-term stays in each other’s country.
A citizen or permanent resident of Canada who sponsors a spouse must undertake to financially support that spouse for three years from the date he or she becomes a permanent resident. That means that if that bartender left me and began collecting social assistance, the government can, and often does, come after the sponsoring spouse to pay that money back.
Not only would you be on the hook to repay any government assistance your spouse collects, but the immigration application fees are not cheap to begin with. You’ll pay $550 for the initial application, and another $490 when the permanent resident visa is approved. There are additional fees for medical examinations, police clearances, and translator services if any documents are not in English or French.
To add insult to injury, depending on your situation, you may find yourself liable to pay spousal support and the family assets may be subject to division. The nerve of that handsome bartender!
This past October, Citizenship and Immigration announced new regulations in an attempt to curb marriages of convenience. These new regulations require some couples to live together for two years to show that their relationship is in fact valid.
Permanent residents have many of the same rights as Canadian citizens: they can work, go to school, and are eligible for publicly funded health care. Before these new regulations were introduced, sponsored spouses received permanent residency upon arrival in Canada. Now, a couple who have been together less than two years and who have no children together will be subject to a conditional two-year period during which the sponsored spouse’s permanent residency can be revoked should the marriage break down or be found to be illegitimate.
These new regulations include some exceptions to the two-year condition. If the sponsor dies, or if the foreign spouse leaves his or her sponsor due to abuse or neglect at the hands of their sponsor or a person related to their sponsor, permanent residency will not be revoked. Abuse could be physical, sexual, psychological or financial. Neglect is the failure of the sponsor to provide their spouse with necessities, such as food, clothing, medical care, shelter, or any other omission that could result in serious harm.
Existing immigration regulations also prevent a sponsored spouse who leaves their partner from immediately sponsoring a new spouse. A sponsored spouse is precluded from sponsoring another spouse for permanent residency for five years.
While we may find ourselves sympathetic to the case of the innocent spouse who is duped by an insincere foreign lover, it’s another story for individuals who knowingly enter into sham marriages for immigration purposes. Suppose I agreed to marry that handsome devil in exchange for a hefty fee, I could also face criminal charges.
So think twice about a spur-of-the-moment marriage to a charming foreigner. These new regulations may save you from some financial liability, but it won’t save you from the heartache.
Carmen Hamilton is an immigration and civil litigation lawyer at Singleton Urquhart LLP. Reasonable Doubt appears on Straight.com on Fridays. You can send your questions for the column to its writers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A word of caution: Don’t take this column as personal legal advice, because it’s not. It is intended for general information and entertainment purposes only.