Summary Report: Consulting the Public on Marriages of Convenience

Background

Marriages of Convenience

One of the goals of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) is to help reunite families. For this reason, Canadian citizens and permanent residents can sponsor their spouse or partner to become a Canadian permanent resident.

Some people abuse spousal sponsorship by entering into marriages of convenience so that they can sidestep Canada’s immigration law. Marriages of convenience usually take one of two forms:

  • A couple pretends to be in a genuine relationship so that the sponsored partner can come to or stay in Canada. In some cases, the sponsor may be given a financial or other kind of benefit in exchange for the sponsorship.
  • One of the partners enters the relationship in good faith, while the other is using the relationship only to gain permanent status in Canada. This victimizes the sponsor.

In both cases, the relationship often ends shortly after the sponsored person arrives in Canada. These relationships weaken our immigration system and make the process more difficult for genuine immigrants.

Consulting the Public

In Fall 2010, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) invited Canadians to participate in an online consultation on the issue of marriage fraud, also known as “marriages of convenience.” This consultation aimed to gather input on the magnitude of the problem, as well as opinions and ideas on how to best address it. Over 2,300 general public respondents and more than 80 who self-identified as representatives from stakeholder organizations responded to CIC’s call for feedback through the online consultations.

In addition to the online consultation, the Honourable Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, hosted in-person town hall meetings in Brampton, Vancouver and Montreal in fall 2010 to discuss marriages of convenience with members of the public. During these meetings, participants described the impact of marriages of convenience on their lives.

CIC also consulted with the provinces and territories on the marriage of convenience issue.

This report focuses on the outcomes of the online consultations.

Methodology

On September 7, 2010, CIC launched an online consultation with stakeholders and the general public to seek views on marriages of convenience. The consultation was open from September 7 to November 10, 2010.

An e-mail was sent to approximately 50 stakeholders inviting them to participate and share within their networks. Stakeholders invited included representatives from national and local organizations such as industry and professional associations, private sector employers, chambers of commerce, immigration lawyers/consultants, immigration-service organizations, civil-rights organizations, ethno cultural organizations and other non-government organizations. The general public was informed of the consultation through a prominently-placed link on the CIC web site, promoted via news release (see Appendix A), and posted on the Consulting with Canadians web site. Minister Kenney also invited participation in the online consultations during his town hall meetings.

Participants were asked to read a background document (Appendix B) before completing the questionnaire (Appendix C). The questionnaire consisted of a mix of multiple-choice and open-ended questions that allowed respondents to provide further comment. The general public and stakeholders completed the same questionnaire, with the only exception being the type of demographic information requested from the two different groups.

The findings summarized in this report reflect only the views of those who responded to the online consultation. These views cannot be projected to the overall Canadian population or CIC stakeholder community.

Respondents

The online questionnaire generated 2,342 responses from the general public and 89 from self-identified stakeholder organizations, for a total of 2,431 respondents.

Among the general public, 37% indicated that they had sponsored a spouse or common-law partner to come to Canada. A total of 11% of participants self-identified as victims of marriage fraud, and a further 11% indicated that they had been sponsored.

The consultation was open to anyone in Canada, as well as people in other countries. Of the responses received from the public, 73% were Canadian citizens, 20% permanent residents, 6% temporary residents and 1% people who live outside of Canada.

Among representatives of stakeholder organizations, the majority that identified the nature of their organizations (57 of 89) were immigration consultants (19 in total, or 33%) and community organizations (13 in total, or 23%). Other organization types were settlement/integration service providers (8 in total, or 14%), employer or employee associations (6 in total, or 11%) and business/professional associations (4 in total, or 7%) and labour/union group (3 in total, or 5%). The scope of organizations was divided between international (29%), national (29%) and local (22%) service-delivery. Respondents also identified as provincial/territorial organizations (10%) and regional (9%) organizations.

Key Findings

Responses from stakeholders and the general public were comparable on many issues. Overall, responses from the public did not vary greatly based on demographic differences, including individuals who identified as victims of marriage fraud, sponsors or sponsored partners.

The following summary of findings presents overall results from both the general public and those who self-identified as stakeholder organization groups. Any notable differences or commonalities between stakeholders and the public, or among sub-groups of the public are noted. Due to the very small sample size of stakeholders, sub-group (i.e. type of organization, scope, location) responses are not reported.

Marriage fraud and Canada’s immigration system

Overall, respondents indicated that fraudulent marriage is a threat or problem to Canada’s immigration system, with three-quarters (77%) who reported it to be a very serious or serious threat. Notably, the general public perceived marriages of convenience to be slightly more of a threat than stakeholders; and among the public, victims of marriage fraud identified this as a threat slightly more than non-victims.

When asked to explain the ways in which marriage fraud can or does pose a threat, responses cited include: effects on the immigration system (longer waiting times, people taking advantage of the immigration system); effects on individuals (potential financial or emotional effects on either the Canadian partner or on sponsored partner), and general effects on Canadian society (social/health benefits).

Members of stakeholder organizations largely commented on the negative effects on Canada’s immigration system and negative consequences to Canadian society, whereas members of the general public expressed more concern for effects on individuals.

Public awareness

A perceived need for more public awareness and education about marriages of convenience was stated by three-quarters (77%) of respondents, with a slightly higher proportion (88%) stated by victims of marriage fraud.

The majority of respondents noted specific areas which required awareness as follows:

  • the issue overall (a significant number of comments suggested that Canadians are largely unaware of the issue);
  • Canadians being taken advantage of or misled by foreign partners aiming to immigrate to Canada;
  • the negative consequences on Canada’s immigration system; and
  • how to report marriage fraud.

Responses from stakeholder organizations included a slightly higher proportion of comments focused on raising awareness of victims of violence or raising awareness of abuse in sponsored relationships.

Sponsor responsibilities

A strong majority (nearly 90%) of respondents felt that a sponsor should bear either a lot (65%) or a moderate (24%) degree of personal responsibility for ensuring that they are entering into a genuine relationship. A slightly higher proportion (70%) of individuals who had been sponsored through marriage expressed that the sponsor should bear a lot of responsibility.

When asked to explain this statement, half of the responses provided noted that the sponsor is primarily responsible for determining the genuineness of marriage. The remaining half of responses expressed that the Government of Canada is responsible for protecting Canadians and should take measures to investigate and prevent fraudulent relationships.

Beyond determining the legitimacy of marriage or carrying the onus of reporting suspected or actual fraud, some respondents (4 in 10) also noted specific responsibilities that should be held by the sponsor, such as the sponsor’s need to care for their partner’s social and financial well-being.

Measures and actions

The consultation found strong support for measures and actions by the Government of Canada to address marriages of convenience. Respondents were asked in two separate open-ended questions to provide their opinions on measures the Government of Canada should take to address this issue.

The most frequently mentioned were measures related to the punishment of fraudulent applicants and/or sponsors (including stricter enforcement of laws, deportation of fraudulent spouses and the introduction of financial penalties). Comments also called for a form of conditional status/probationary period, increased screening and follow-up investigations to detect fraud; some also mentioned the need to increase public awareness about marriages of convenience.

Processing times for spousal immigration applications

Views on longer processing times to allow more investigation into potential fraud were almost evenly split. Just over half of respondents (52%) indicated that they were not prepared to tradeoff longer processing times for more investigations into potential cases of fraud.

Respondents opposed to longer processing times noted that that the application process is already too long, that more investigation time would likely not improve the situation, or that an increase in processing time would be unfair to legitimate marriages. Those in favour of longer processing times stated that lengthier investigations could deter fraudulent applicants and allow more time to uncover illegitimate relationships, and would not negatively affect legitimate relationships.

Sponsorship bars

The questionnaire found general support for the introduction of new federal measures to address relationships of convenience. When asked about sponsorship bars, 7 in 10 respondents (73%) indicated support for this measure. The questionnaire did not include a question which asked how long the bar should be in duration, and few respondents offered comments in this regard.

Approximately 15% were not supportive of sponsorship bars, as they felt such measures can be unfair, and/or victimize or assign blame to the sponsored spouse. Stakeholder organizations expressed slightly more opposition (25%) to sponsorship bars than the general public.

Conditional status

The majority of respondents (68%) felt that conditional status measures were appropriate, while two in 10 (21%) were opposed. A slightly higher (29%) opposition was expressed by stakeholder organizations than the general public.

Among those who supported the idea of a conditional status measure, close to half (46%) believed the probationary period should be two years or less. Three in 10 (31%) favoured a three-year probationary period, and just under one quarter (23%) indicated that the conditional period should be between five and 10 years in length.

Acceptable exceptions suggested for a conditional measure included reasons related to family circumstances – i.e. if the couple had an established a relationship or lived outside of Canada together for a significant period, if the couple had or was expecting a child/children, situations of violence or abuse of partner, illness or criminal convictions.

Federal spending and resources to address marriages of convenience

More than half of respondents (58%) indicated that they would support more federal resources to investigate, police and hear cases related to marriages of convenience. Justifications given by supporters included the need to uphold immigration laws and prevent people from abusing the immigration system, as well as the need to increase resources to improve investigations and screening processes.

Among those opposed to increasing federal resources to address the issue (32%), respondents commented that devoting more time and/or money to this issue would not reduce instances of marriage fraud, the government should not be involved in determining whether marriages are legitimate (citing that marriage is a personal issue), or that marriages of convenience are not a major problem.

Conclusion and next steps

In sum, those who participated in the consultation acknowledged concern about marriages of convenience. Most considered the issue to be a threat to the integrity of Canada’s immigration system, and the majority expressed a need for greater public education and awareness. A strong majority felt that the sponsor should bear considerable personal responsibility for ensuring that they were entering into a genuine relationship.

Of the suggested measures proposed to address marriages of convenience, the leading option was for punishment of individuals found to be committing fraud (i.e. deportation, fines, legal action). Respondents also strongly supported increased investigative or screening measures, while just over half indicated that they were not prepared to tradeoff longer processing times for more investigations into potential cases of fraud. There was broad support for both the introduction of a sponsorship bar and for a conditional measure. For a conditional measure, the appropriate length suggested by most was for two years or less, followed by moderate support for a period of three to five years.

Responses to this consultation, along with messages collected from in-person meetings and existing research data on the issue, will be used to help inform future actions taken by the Department to address marriage fraud.


Appendix A: News Release

Appendix B: Backgrounder


Appendix C: Questionnaire

Consulting the Public on Marriages of Convenience

This questionnaire will take about 15 minutes to complete. Your participation is voluntary and only the totals for each question will be reported. We appreciate your time and input.

Before you start, please read the background document, Marriage Fraud – Have Your Say. It will help you respond to the questions as it explains the purpose of the consultation process as well as the issue and considerations.

1. Consider the information you read about marriages of convenience. Overall, how serious a threat or problem do you think fraudulent marriages are to Canada’s immigration system?

  • Very serious
  • Serious
  • Not very serious
  • Not at all serious
  • Do not know

Please explain:

2. In your opinion, is there a need for better public awareness about marriages of convenience?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Do not know

Please explain:

3. In your opinion, how much personal responsibility should the sponsor bear for ensuring that they are entering into a genuine marriage?

  • A lot
  • Moderate
  • Not at all
  • Do not know

Please explain:

4. What should the sponsor be responsible for?

5. In your view, what measures and actions should the Government of Canada consider to address marriages of convenience (in terms of both prevention and law enforcement)?

6. Would you agree to longer processing times for spousal immigration applications if it meant more investigation into potential marriage fraud?

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree
  • Do not know

Please explain:

7. Countries such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand use sponsorship bars and conditional visas to address marriages of convenience. (Please refer to the background document for more information.)

What do you think of sponsorship bars?

What about conditional visas? Do you think that they are appropriate?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Do not know

How long should the probationary period be?

What are acceptable exceptions?

What should happen if a genuine marriage legitimately breaks down once a sponsored individual is in Canada?

What other concerns do you have?

8. In your opinion, what measures could the Government of Canada take to address marriages of convenience?

9. Would you support spending more federal government money and resources to address marriages of convenience (to investigate, police and hear cases)?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Do not know

Please explain:

10. Additional comments:

Are you responding as an individual or a representative of an organization?

  • Individual
  • Representative of an organization

Your name (optional):

Which best describes your status in Canada?

  • Canadian citizen
  • Permanent resident
  • Temporary resident of Canada
  • Other, please indicate:

Have you been sponsored to come to Canada by your spouse or common-law partner?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Prefer not to respond

Have you sponsored a spouse or common-law partner to come to Canada?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Prefer not to respond

Have you been a victim of marriage fraud?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Do not know
  • Prefer not to respond

How old are you?

  • 25 or under
  • 26 - 34
  • 35 - 44
  • 45 - 54
  • 55 or over
  • Prefer not to respond

What is your gender?

  • Male
  • Female
  • Prefer not to respond

Where do you live?

  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Nova Scotia
  • Prince Edward Island
  • New Brunswick
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Saskatchewan
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Nunavut
  • Northwest Territories
  • Yukon
  • Outside of Canada
  • Prefer not to respond

Are you employed in, or a member of any of the following?

  • Settlement/integration service provider
  • Academic/think tank
  • Sponsorship agreement holder
  • Immigration consultant
  • Immigration lawyer
  • Accreditation body
  • Professional association
  • Other (please describe):

Your name, organization and contact details:

Organization:

Telephone:

E-mail:

Which best describes your organization?

  • Employer/employee association
  • Business/sector association
  • Professional association
  • Accreditation body
  • Labour/union group
  • Settlement/integration service provider
  • Academic/public policy institution
  • Private sponsorship of refugees program agreement holder
  • Immigration consultant/lawyer
  • Municipal association/municipal government
  • Accreditation body
  • Community organization
  • Academic
  • Other, please specify:

What is the scope of your organization?

  • National
  • Provincial/Territorial
  • Regional
  • Local
  • International
  • Other, please specify:

Which province and/or territory do you operate in? Check all that apply.

  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Nova Scotia
  • Prince Edward Island
  • New Brunswick
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Manitoba
  • Saskatchewan
  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Nunavut
  • Northwest Territories
  • Yukon
  • Outside of Canada

Reports and statistics

 
 
Date Modified: