No Longer Married for the Papers

Just over four years ago, I wrote an article titled ‘Married for the Papers’ about the phenomenon of marriage fraud. Marriage fraud is defined as the act of marrying a Canadian citizen or permanent resident for the sole purpose of immigrating to Canada. The Canadian in question is led to believe mistakenly that their so-called spouse truly loves them. In good faith, the Canadian sponsors the foreign national with the intention of starting a new life with them in Canada. Marriage fraud should be distinguished from marriage of convenience, where both parties agree to get married in order to help the foreign partner come to Canada with no attempt to deceive the Canadian spouse.

When I first wrote the article, marriage fraud was a fairly peripheral issue on the Canadian political front. Since then, much has happened. Most recently, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has introduced legislation that would prohibit a spousal sponsoree from sponsoring a new partner for five years if the marriage with the Canadian spouse failed. Kenney has also proposed withholding permanent resident status from spousal sponsorees unless they remained in the marriage for at least two years. If they did not, their legal status in Canada would be revoked, and they would be deported and perhaps even face criminal charges. Both measures are aimed at discouraging would-be fraudulent spouses.

Kenney says he was motivated to enact these laws after holding consultations on the matter and hearing from people who had been hurt by foreigners pretending to be in love with them but abandoning them soon after getting their immigration papers. What may be even worse, if the sponsoree decided to go on welfare, the Canadian husband or wife would be required to reimburse the state for any expenses their erstwhile spouse incurred. Needless to say, Kenney’s two above-mentioned pieces of legislation (imposing two-year conditional residency on spousal sponsorees and preventing them from bringing a new partner to Canada for five years) have been applauded by groups like Canadians Against Immigration Fraud – which incidentally was founded by a man whose son was left in the lurch, so to speak, by a woman he had sponsored to come to Canada.

On the other hand, Kenney’s proposals have not been without criticism. One letter writer to the British Columbia-based paper Indo Canadian Voice condemned the five-year ban on sponsoring a new spouse as an unwarranted interference in people’s personal lives. Some women’s groups and immigrant advocacy organizations say that the two-year conditional residency rule could trap sponsored wives in abusive relationships if they feared ending the marriage would lead to deportation from Canada. (Kenney has said there will be a special provision for sponsored spouses who have been abused.) Whatever one feels about Kenney’s new laws, however, they are likely to pass given the Conservatives’ majority government.

Personally, I believe that Jason Kenney’s desire to eliminate marriage fraud is a commendable one. As I mentioned in ‘Married for the Papers,’ I could have been a victim of marriage fraud myself. Other people, however, have not been so lucky and have ended up emotionally (and often financially) drained after being deceived and ultimately discarded by a person they thought loved them. For example, I once had a colleague I’ll call ‘David’ who had come to Canada after marrying a woman of Finnish descent. At our place of work, David flirted with literally every woman under 30 in sight (maybe because I had a boyfriend, David never tried to approach me). David eventually got his so-called papers, abandoned his Canadian wife, and moved into a small apartment. His wife, from what I heard, was devastated at the loss of the man she was convinced had loved her. When she cried to him about this, he supposedly told her, ‘Well, you can always make love to me.’ It is situations like this that Minister Kenney wants to prevent.

Nonetheless, whether Kenney’s legislation will actually achieve this goal is still an open question. The five-year ban on spousal sponsorees bringing a new spouse to Canada will most likely deter the majority of individuals who might get the idea of marrying a Canadian, obtaining permanent residence here, and then ditching their spouse and sponsoring their ‘true love.’ Few people – both the sponsoree and the one waiting in the wings in the so-called old country – would be willing to wait five years to reunite in a foreign land. For those without a significant other back home, however, two years might not seem too long to stick it out in a loveless (at least on the sponsoree’s part) marriage before being free to call it quits. Take the example of African-American author Terry McMillan and Jonathan Plummer. At the age of 46, McMillan married Plummer, who was in his early twenties at the time, after meeting him on a vacation to his native Jamaica. Their courtship and marriage formed the basis of McMillan’s book How Stella Got her Groove Back and the film of the same name. The marriage ended six years later when Plummer told McMillan he was gay. So two years, while better than nothing, might not be sufficient to discourage some would-be fraudsters.

Finally, would-be sponsors themselves have a role to lay in curbing marriage fraud. Both Minister Kenney and others in the field, such as Italian-Canadian immigration columnist Vilma Filici, have warned Canadians intending to marry a foreign national to be careful. Filici cites a case of an Indo-Canadian woman who was originally prevented from sponsoring a man she had married in India because Canadian immigration officials suspected he was only after the immigration papers. The wife subsequently launched a legal battle and finally succeeded in getting permission to bring her husband here. Upon arriving at the airport, he allegedly went his own way. The woman might have spared herself a great deal of heartache if she had realized that the immigration officials may have had a point. Love is blind, they say, but the neighbours aren’t. Similarly, perhaps Terry McMillan should have asked herself why a man half her age, gay or straight, from a developing country seemed so interested in her. (Then again, I seriously questioned McMillan’s judgement on hearing of her surprise at Plummer’s ‘betrayal’ by having sex with other men after she had helped him start up his own dog-grooming business)

It might be impossible to completely eradicate marriage fraud. But however imperfect, Kenney’s proposals and move to a fight the phenomenon are a step in the right direction.

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