OTTAWA — The government is set to change the regulations for immigrants marrying a Canadian in an effort to crack down on marriages of convenience.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday the plan includes a conditional period to ensure marriages are real to prevent citizenships being handed out fraudulently.
"Someone who gets immediate permanent residency and then it turns out they're a marriage fraudster becomes extremely difficult to take action against them and remove them because it's hard to prove in court that they lied when they came in," Kenney told reporters this week.
Kenney also said the new policies would put a stop to the "revolving door of marriage fraud." He said there are cases where someone will gain citizenship through marriage, get a divorce and then sponsor another individual for citizenship.
"We're going to shut the revolving door down by saying you can't sponsor in someone from abroad as a spouse if you yourself came in as a spouse for at least five years," he said.
An immigration official said there is no time period set for the conditional period yet, but it is expected to be two years or more.
The policy change has the opposition worried that the government is painting all immigrants coming to Canada via marriage with the same brush.
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 to five 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 said. "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."
He also said the new policies may prevent individuals in an abusive relationship from leaving their spouse because they fear their citizenship would be revoked.
However, an immigration official said there would be an out clause for someone trapped in an abusive relationship. If an individual was found in such a situation, whether through police or other credible means, that person would not have his or her citizenship revoked for failing to complete the required period.
Davies said the government should instead be focusing on preventing people in a fake marriage from ever entering the country. He said the focus should be on adding more investigators overseas, instead of focusing only at home.
Kenney, however, pointed to statistics from Hong Kong that showed overall citizenship applications via marriage had dropped significantly because of investigations.
"We've found, for example, a criminal ring that was submitting thousands of fake marriage applications out of southern China through our Hong Kong office and . . . as a result of that investigatory work we ended up rejecting about 50 per cent of the spousal sponsorship applications," he said.
The immigration official said the number of immigrants through the program fell from 4,596 in 2006 to 1,696 last year — a decrease of 63 per cent.
Those numbers, the official said, also include children immigrating to Canada, mostly through adoptions. The official said there is no evidence there are fraudulent adoptions taking place and the new policy would not address that area.
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