March 2, 2012 – Citizenship and Immigration Canada announced that sponsored spouses or partners are now barred from submitting sponsorship applications for 5 years – meaning one who is sponsored by a spouse or partner cannot subsequently sponsor a different spouse or partner themselves, for five years. This five-year period applies even if the sponsored person acquired citizenship during that time, and applies to applicants who made their application on or after March 2, 2012. Applicants who submitted their package before this date are not subject to this restriction.
This initiative is meant to deter ‘marriages of convenience,’ a union fabricated only to gain permanent residence in Canada under the Family Class category. Visa officers are trained to detect such false relationships. Before announcing the five-year sponsorship bar, regulations deterred marriages of convenience with a condition on the sponsor only, prohibiting a sponsor from sponsoring another spouse or common-law or conjugal partner until three years had passed since a previous partner was granted permanent resident status. These regulations are still in effect.
In addition to the five-year bar, CIC pre-published (not yet in effect) a related change on March 10, 2012 that the sponsorship between spouses, common-law or conjugal partners be subject to the condition that the couple live in a conjugal relationship for two years, beginning once the permanent residence status is granted. This condition would apply if the couple was in a two-year relationship and had no children at the time of the sponsorship application. Once in effect, if the condition is not met, the permanent resident status of the person sponsored, and their accompanying family members, could be cancelled. However, this condition would not apply if there were evidence of the sponsor abusing their sponsored spouse or partner, the children of either, or another relative living in the household. If the sponsor died during the two years, this would also lift the condition. CIC expects this change to come into effect sometime this summer.
A marriage inside Canada needs to be proven by a certificate, and a ceremony performed outside of Canada must be valid by both local law and Canadian law. In Ontario, a same sex partner can be sponsored as a spouse if the couple were married in Canada after June 9, 2003, or outside Canada as long as the marriage is recognized as legal in the country where the ceremony took place and is recognized as legal in Canada.
A marriage is not considered valid if: one member is under 16; either partner was married or in a common-law or conjugal relationship at the time the sponsor and sponsored person were married; the couple has lived apart for a year; the sponsored spouse should have been, but was not, examined as a family member of the sponsor when the sponsor immigrated to Canada originally; or if the three year period has not passed since the sponsor had previously sponsored a spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner.
Common-law partners are those who have been in a conjugal relationship for at least one continuous year with only short interruptions for business or family reasons. Providing documentation of joint services such as bank accounts, credit cards or utilities can prove this.
Conjugal relationships, in which the couple is not living together, are recognized as legitimate only if there exists the same level of commitment as in a marriage or common-law relationship. However, there has to be a compelling reason for the couple not to be residing together such as sexual orientation (where same-sex marriage is not allowed in the jurisdiction), marital status (if laws prevent one partner from divorcing a spouse, and therefore cannot be with their current partner), or an immigration obstacle that keeps the couple geographically apart.