We the undersigned oppose the proposal to introduce a “conditional” permanent residence period of two years or more for sponsored spouses and partners who have been in a relationship of two years or less with their sponsors. The proposed change, published in the Canada Gazette, 26 March 2011, states that if the sponsored spouse/partner does not remain in a bona fide relationship with their sponsor during the conditional period, their permanent residence could be revoked.
We believe that introducing “conditional permanent residence” would represent a major step backwards in Canadian immigration policy, would increase inequalities in relationships between spouses, and would put women in particular at heightened risk of violence.
These are some of the main concerns associated with the proposal:
- Making permanent residency for the sponsored partner conditional puts all the power into the hands of the sponsor, who can use the precarity of the partner's status as a tool for manipulation – at any time, the sponsor can declare the spouse fraudulent. This can be a constant threat and source of fear for the sponsored person, who faces the risk of being deported.
- This power imbalance affects all sponsored partners, regardless of the “genuineness” of relationship, and reinforces unequal gendered power dynamics.
- Making permanent residency conditional on staying in the marriage for two years traps women in abusive relationships for fear of losing their status.
- Children will also be hurt, for example when they remain with their parent in an abusive home, or if they face being separated from one parent if the sponsored parent is removed from Canada.
- The suggestion that some cases would be “targeted for fraud” raises fears of possible racial, national or ethnic stereotyping and discrimination, and of malicious denunciations.
According to the notice, a process would be developed to allow sponsored spouses in abusive situations to come forward without facing enforcement action. This is not a solution. Given that many sponsored immigrants, especially women, have little knowledge of their rights, it is not realistic to suggest that they would come forward to the immigration authorities to report an abusive relationship. It is also unfair to place the burden of proof of abuse on the abused woman.
The notice mentions that similar policies are already in place in the UK, Australia and the U.S. Experts in those countries have reported that conditional status creates the problems mentioned above, putting women at risk and giving increased power to abusive sponsors.
Given the lack of evidence that “marriage fraud” is a widespread problem, it is unfortunate that the government is exploring this proposal, which would create another barrier to family reunification. We urge Citizenship and Immigration Canada to turn its attention instead to reducing the existing barriers to family reunification, including the unacceptably long processing delays in too many regions of the world.
We are also concerned that characterizing relationship breakdown as marriage fraud adds to the increasingly negative portrayal by the government of newcomers, and thus increases xenophobic tendencies within society.