MARRIAGE SCAMS: New policy requiring spouses to live with their sponsor for two years raises questions

Published: November 20, 2012

Shajila Singh is a victim of marriage fraud and is now an advocate for reform. Steve Bosch/PNG

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Burnaby resident Shajila Singh was “humiliated” when she realized her marriage was a sham.

In 1993, the young, “naive” 21-year-old girl felt pressured to marry her Punjabi boyfriend.

“When I got married and sponsored him then I found out he was on a deportation notice,” said Singh. “I realized … I was a passport.”

“It really humiliated me.”

Singh spent more than a decade battling for divorce and against her financial responsibilities of $50,000 — a result of a signed undertaking, a contract leaving her financially responsible for her ex because he went on welfare. She’s since been an advocate for victims of marriage fraud.

Last month Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) created a new regulation requiring sponsored spouses to live with their sponsor for two years, or risk losing permanent resident status — but this won’t solve the problem, said Singh.

“If your spouse comes and you have this two years, for a woman it’s really bad because you might be stuck with this abusive man,” she said.

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Republished from The Province’s Abandoned Brides series:

Local immigration lawyer Zool Suleman said the rationale for the policy isn’t clear.

“I don’t think that it’s going to end up protecting the Canadian sponsor too much if the relationship is abusive,” he said. “(But) Canadians bringing in individuals as their spouses can have more power in the relationship because the non-Canadian has to basically behave for two years.”

“I don’t know that it’s that well thought-out … it doesn’t change the core problems in abusive scenarios.”

For the regulation to work, Singh said CIC would need to follow up and monitor the relationships.

But according to CIC, there’s no routine check-in — immigration officers only follow up if a concern is raised.

Additional resources aren’t attached to the regulation either.

“The majority of costs … will be absorbed by the Government of Canada within existing resources,” CIC said in an email.

The government of Canada wants to “wash their hands” of married life, said Suleman.

“Immigration Canada wants to get out of the marriage business once the immigrant has entered Canada,” he said. “No government department wants to keep an eye on marriages.”

There needs to be a better avenue to file a complaint about fraudulent behaviour, he said.

“(CIC officials) take the complaint … and it sits there.”

And before they know it, social services sends a bill from the undertaking – which happened to Singh.

She had no idea her ex stayed in Canada and went on social assistance after the divorce – until she got billed.

She believes the answer lies in the undertaking of financial responsibility — sponsors need to be more aware of it.

“When women sponsors become victims of marriage fraud and then they get abused by those sponsors … they get double victimized by the government,” she said. “The person you are sponsoring is still not held accountable.”

“The person doing the fraud will really lure the victim and will make them believe they’re in love,” she said. “When you’re sponsoring you have to be careful, you have to be aware, you have to have a good eye to be able to see if that guy truly loves you or not.”




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