BY DOUGLAS QUAN, POSTMEDIA NEWS
Neil Macdonald insisted his marriage to a woman he met on a Chinese dating website was genuine and that she was his “soul mate.”
But a federal judge was unmoved, recently upholding immigration officials’ decision to deny the Kitchener, Ont., man’s attempts to sponsor his wife, Zheng Qun Huang, for permanent residence in Canada on the grounds she was interested only in a ticket to this country.
The decision comes at a time when the government has introduced measures to crack down on marriage fraud, making it much more difficult, immigration lawyers say, to apply for spousal sponsorship.
“No question, decisions on spousal sponsorships are getting tougher,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Jacqueline Bart. “We have to work harder as lawyers to make sure the application package we submit … is very strong.”
In 2006, Macdonald registered with two websites, Chinese Lovelinks and Cherry Blossoms.
Chinese Lovelinks bills itself as a website for people interested in “serious Chinese dating and relationships.” Cherry Blossoms boasts profiles for thousands of single Chinese, Filipino, Thai and Vietnamese women “who are looking for online dating, love and romance.”
Macdonald, a financial adviser in his 60s, began to exchange emails with Zheng and also made several trips to visit her in China. The couple married in 2007, and in August 2008, Macdonald applied to sponsor his wife for permanent residence in Canada.
Four months later, a visa officer denied the application, concluding that the marriage was not bona fide and was entered into primarily for immigration purposes.
Macdonald took his case to the Immigration Appeal Division, which held a hearing in March 2011.
Macdonald’s lawyers, Mary Lam and Cecil Rotenberg, said in an interview Tuesday that they presented evidence showing that the couple exchanged emails daily, that Macdonald visited Zheng twice a year in China, and that Macdonald had set aside half of his estate to her in his will.
Macdonald’s son from a previous marriage also vouched for the genuineness of their relationship.
“We’re in an age where cross-cultural marriages are not unusual. We’re in an age of technology. You have to take that into account in relationships and marriages,” Lam said.
But the immigration adjudicator dismissed the appeal, saying that the relationship had “very little time to evolve and develop,” and that there were issues with Zheng’s credibility.
The adjudicator cited the fact that she had made no effort to learn English after five years of marriage, that she had failed to tell Macdonald about a condominium purchase in China, and also lacked knowledge of Macdonald’s son.
Zheng sought a “new life in a new land … with one of the first persons she met over the international website despite the ongoing and considerable language barrier,” the adjudicator concluded.
In a decision reached last Friday, federal Judge David Near said the appeal decision was reasonable.
Macdonald’s lawyers said Tuesday one thing that worked against their client was a change to immigration rules that took effect in September 2010.
In the past, determining a “bad faith” relationship required that two conditions be met: an immigration officer had to find that the marriage was not genuine and that the marriage was entered into primarily for the purpose of obtaining immigration status.
After the rule change, a sponsorship application could be denied so long as one of the conditions was met.
“We’re losing sight of the humanity,” Rotenberg said.
Given the tougher rules, immigration lawyers need to cull as many documents as possible that prove a couple’s relationship is loving and will “stand the test of time,” Bart said.
That includes photos, email exchanges and financial-support records – even documentation of sexual encounters.
“When a couple is in love they want to communicate. There is proof. And we access that proof,” she said.
Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said Tuesday he believes the crackdown on marriage fraud by the federal government is generally headed in the right direction, and that the Macdonald case is not indicative of any major surge in sponsorship denials.
The stricter regulations could have the effect, he said, of saving Canadian sponsors who enter into relationships in good faith only to be victimized by fraudsters seeking permanent status in Canada.
“People have to guard their hearts and wallets from abuse, the same way people do right here in Canada when they are thinking of spending forever with someone,” Kurland said. “It’s no different.”
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