26 October 2011

Federal Government Cracking Down on Sham Marriages

The Globe & Mail today reports that Citizenship and Immigration Canada is working on a plan to reduce the number of marriages entered into for immigration purposes; the Globe article specifically mentions India and China as target countries where fraudulent marriage schemes are common. According to the Globe, regulations to be published later this year will allow Citizenship and Immigration to issue "a new 'conditional' immigration status," which I assume would be a conditional sponsorship approval, and limit sponsoring spouses to one new spouse every five years.

Marriage fraud has been on Citizenship and Immigration's radar for a number of years. Here's an extract from a speech delivered by immigration minister Jason Kenney at a golf club in India on 9 September 2010:

"We aim to reunite our citizens and permanent residents with family members and we recognize that most individuals who apply for family reunification are in genuine relationships.

"But we also aim to protect the integrity of our immigration system and uphold our laws by identifying and addressing fraudulent activity. This includes ensuring that fraudulent marriages are discovered and not used to circumvent our laws.

"Accordingly, if we find evidence during the sponsorship process that individuals are committing marriage fraud, we can and will refuse the application for permanent residence.

"Our officials at missions here and around the world are trained to assess relationships based on customs, traditions and practices of the specific cultures in which they work.

"I can assure you that the Government of Canada is working to limit abuse and fraud, and we will not be limiting immigration to Canada or the protection Canada provides to refugees."

Concerns like these led the ministry to undertake a series of public consultations later that year, the results of which have been published on Citizenship and Immigration's website and include recommendations for a conditional immigration status and limiting the frequency with which new spouses can be sponsored. Here is the summary conclusion drawn from the consultations, with emphasis added:

"In sum, those who participated in the consultation acknowledged concern about marriages of convenience. Most considered the issue to be a threat to the integrity of Canada’s immigration system, and the majority expressed a need for greater public education and awareness. A strong majority felt that the sponsor should bear considerable personal responsibility for ensuring that they were entering into a genuine relationship.

"Of the suggested measures proposed to address marriages of convenience, the leading option was for punishment of individuals found to be committing fraud (i.e. deportation, fines, legal action). Respondents also strongly supported increased investigative or screening measures, while just over half indicated that they were not prepared to tradeoff [sic] longer processing times for more investigations into potential cases of fraud. There was broad support for both the introduction of a sponsorship bar and for a conditional measure. For a conditional measure, the appropriate length suggested by most was for two years or less, followed by moderate support for a period of three to five years."

I have no doubt that marriage fraud is a problem for the federal government inasmuch as it undermines the coherence and public policy objectives of the immigration system. It's also a serious problem when the sponsoring spouse is unaware that the marriage was undertaken for ulterior purposes — the discovery of the other spouse's motives can cause no small amount of financial and emotional harm; see the 2006 case of Raju v. Kumar as an example of the harm which can be wrought.

Update: 1 November 2011

CBC has published an article on the enforcement side of this issue, and reports that through "Project Honeymoon" the Canada Border Services Agency has opened 39 investigations into suspected cases of marriage fraud since 2008, resulting in seven charges and three (count 'em, three) convictions.

Could it be that the rate of marriage fraud simply isn't as high as the immigration minister suggests? Or is it simply a problem of needing sufficient staff to address an problem which is inherently difficult to investigate? According to the CBC:

"... the internal border agency documents — disclosed under the Access to Information Act — acknowledge the cases require considerable resources, and many never make it to court."