Liberals announce changes to spousal sponsorship rules

Liberals announce changes to spousal sponsorship rules

According to an announcement that was made last year, immigrants who were sponsored by their spouses to come to Canada will no longer be required to stay in the relationship for two years in order to avoid a revocation of their permanent resident status.

Even though this rule was put in place in order to crack down on fraudulent marriages in Canada, it was perceived as trapping innocent migrants in dysfunctional relationships. Canadian advocates criticized this condition due to the number of migrants, especially women, sticking in abusive relationships because of the fear of losing permanent resident status.

According to the government, applications are only approved because the relationships are recognized as genuine by the immigration officer reviewing the application. Having this rule contradicts this. Conditional permanent residence, once it is eliminated, would help to increase the number of families united in Canada and lower the number of vulnerable immigrants in the system.

This rule was eliminated in an effort by the government to work towards combatting gender-based violence. This was after the conditional permanent residence rule was effected late in 2012. Since then, any sponsored spouse was required to live with their sponsor for a period of not less than 2 years if they did not have children together. If it is found that the sponsored person did not meet this residency obligation, their permanent resident status is revoked and he/she is deported.

Between 2013 and 2015, more than 58,000 spouses were admitted to Canada under spousal sponsorship program under the conditional permanent residents rule. There are however exceptions to this rule. For instance, the sponsored partner can ask to be exempted if the spouse dies or if he/she is facing abuse from the spouse or a close relative of the spouse.

Within the three years, the immigration department had already received more than 300 applications from foreign spouses requesting to be exempted from the rule because of facing abuse or neglect. Majority of these applications were from women. After their cases were reviewed, 79% of applications were accepted.

This exception was still not enough to protect vulnerable immigrants who were being sponsored into Canada via the spousal sponsorship program. The government still acknowledged that the risk of abuse and neglect among vulnerable immigrants was still high. This could be attributed to many factors. For instance, the sponsored partner or spouse may not be aware of the exception and hence may not apply for it. Secondly, immigrants always face the fear of losing their permanent residence status and hence stay away from the process of applying for exception.

After removing this cohabitation requirement, the government still promises to take stringent measures in order to combat fraudulent marriages and marriages of convenience. However, a sponsored permanent resident cannot sponsor another person to immigrate to Canada until 5 years have elapsed. Furthermore, the immigration department can still revoke applications due to misrepresentation according to the provisions of law.

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