Upcoming changes no longer require sponsored migrants to remain in a relationship with their partner to retain status
Last month, the government of Canada announced that in early 2017, it will eliminate the requirement of conditional permanent residence for spousal sponsorship applications, making it easier for vulnerable individuals to leave abusive relationships.
The conditional permanent residence rule presently requires migrants who were sponsored to Canada by their spouse or partner and who do not have any children with their sponsor to remain in the relationship for at least two years or otherwise risk losing their permanent residence status. The rule came into effect in 2012 with the aim of combating marriage fraud.
Under this rule, sponsored spouses could only be exempted from the requirement if their sponsor has died or if they could prove that they are in an abusive relationship. In the past three years, there were three hundred applications for this exemption, with the large majority of applicants being women in abusive relationships. The government had granted an exemption to 80% of the applicants, but a significant number of vulnerable individuals were undoubtedly forced to remain with their abusers just to keep their status, especially since many of them do not speak the language, do not know their legal rights, and are simply unaware that the exemption even exists.
In any case, the reliance on the exemption by women abused or neglected by their sponsors clearly shows that using conditional permanent residence to fight marriage fraud comes at a high cost of trapping newcomers in abusive relationships. Unless they can prove abuse or neglect, victims of domestic violence are effectively forced to stay with their abusers just to keep their status in Canada.
Moreover, the current requirement forces individuals to stay together after the breakdown of their relationship, entirely ignorant of the fact that many genuine marriages, whether entered into in Canada or abroad, end before their two-year mark. The upcoming amendments are, therefore, a welcome change aimed to finally address the problems underlying conditional residence.
While combating marriage fraud is a legitimate objective, there already exist sufficient safeguards in the system to ensure the integrity of spousal sponsorship and to prevent fraudulent marriages. For example, an individual who came to Canada as a spouse must wait at least five years from the day they are granted their permanent resident status to qualify as a spousal sponsor themselves.
Additionally, sponsors are required to sign an undertaking promising to provide for their spouse’s essential needs for three years, regardless of whether or not the relationship ends before that time. As such, the conditional residence requirement is in no way essential to combating marriage fraud, since plenty of safeguards are already in place to ensure this objective.
If you have more questions about the changes, contact a Canadian immigration lawyer about the changes.