Harper government set to crackdown on fake marriages

Andy Radia

Ottawa is preparing to unveil a new "conditional" immigration status to curb the growing problem of marriage fraud.

According to an article in the Globe and Mail, the legislation will be introduced later this year and be based on practices already in place in the United States and Australia.

Foreigners who marry Canadian citizens will now have to prove they have lived together for a defined period of two years or more, before the applicant can file for permanent residency.

The government will also bring in a five-year ban on sponsoring spouses being allowed to turn around and sponsor a new spouse into Canada.

Kenney says the new legislation is necessary because of the growing number of cases of marriage fraud coming from countries like China and India. In those countries, fraudsters often "Photoshop" fake wedding pictures — suspicions started when the same relatives showed up again and again in wedding photos.

"It's a cat and mouse game," said Kenney.

Over the past year, the Harper government has faced some resistance to new marriage fraud rules, particularly from stakeholders who feel the regulations are too harsh.

In an open letter to "ethnic Canadians" in April, several Canadian immigration lawyers suggested the proposed policy was part of the Conservative "habit" of using immigration issues to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment amongst other Canadians.

"Jason Kenney claims that the government is targeting 'marriage fraud' but don't be fooled — every couple will face additional, harsher, longer and more invasive scrutiny,"

"Just because you know your marriage is genuine, doesn't mean the government will agree, and even more individuals, families and communities will suffer as a result of the government's culture of suspicion."

NDP immigration critic Don Davies said the plan is problematic because divorce rates in North America are so high - about 50 per cent - within the first two years.

"The mere fact that a marriage doesn't work out within two years is not by itself that the marriage wasn't legitimate," Davies told PostMedia news.

"One could argue that people who do enter into a fraudulent marriage could easily get around this rule by simply staying together for two years."

Davies also says the new policies may prevent individuals in an abusive relationship from leaving their spouse because they fear their citizenship would be revoked.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada says over 46,000 people immigrated to Canada as spouses in 2010.