In an age of internet dating and cross-country romances, Canadian immigration officials are further scrutinizing applications for spousal sponsorship.
Assessing the legitimacy of a marriage can be a cumbersome task, especially for Canadian immigration officials working in countries where arranged marriages are commonplace, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan. These cases are particularly difficult, as a significant number of these arranged marriages are conducted over the internet via webcam or by telephone. Pat O’Brien, program manager at the High Commission of Canada in Islamabad, says as many as 40% of the cases seen in his office involve long-distance weddings.
For Canadian immigration officials looking to distinguish the bona fide relationships from the fraudulent, an additional challenge is posed by the rising popularity of online dating. As Canadians log onto to various dating sites and chat rooms, romantic relationships can evolve with non-Canadian citizens. While Canadians might genuinely be looking for love, immigration officers fear they may be targeted by foreign nationals seeking Canadian permanent residency through marriage to a Canadian citizen.
In an attempt to better evaluate sponsorship applications, Citizenship and Immigration Canada has recently decreased the criteria needed for officials to dismiss an application based on a “bad faith” relationship. As of September 2010, immigration officers need only prove that Canadian immigration status was the primary purpose of the marriage or that the relationship is not genuine to reject an application. Under previous regulation, officials needed to prove that both of these criteria were met.
This ease in criteria has recently helped a judge uphold the decision to deny a Canadian man’s attempt to sponsor his Chinese wife whom he met online. The man from Kitchener, Ontario appealed the case after an immigration official concluded that the marriage was entered in for immigration purposes. The judge upheld the decision as despite the man’s bi-annual trips to China and copies of email correspondence, the wife made no attempts to learn English throughout their five year marriage. The fact that the significant language barrier did not compel the woman to learn her husband’s language signaled a lack of legitimacy to the judge.
As this case demonstrates, Canadian immigration policy must evolve as technology continues to break down international barriers.