ARCHIVED – Speaking notes for The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P. Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism

At a News Conference to Announce Changes to Spousal Sponsorship

Mississauga, March 2, 2012

As Delivered

Thank you for being here.

And thank you, Sam, my good friend Sam Bennett for joining us. Sam, of course, is the founder and President of Canadians Against Immigration Fraud, and has been doing great work which has led to today’s important and exciting announcement.

First, I’d like to say a few words about marriage fraud and how the government plans to deal with it. I will then turn the microphone over to Sam to talk about his experience in dealing with the victims of marriage fraud.

A little over a year ago, I held public town hall meetings and roundtables across the country with victims of marriage fraud. In fact, before that, it was Sam and his group of victims of marriage fraud who had approached me and told me the stories about what they and thousands of others had gone through. And they gave me hard, tangible proof about the abuse of Canadians and our immigration system by foreigners seeking to use marriage illegitimately as a tool to get into Canada. It was that organization and that meeting which caused me to hold the consultations and eventually make the policy commitment to crack down on marriage fraud.

We wanted to hear about the experiences of Canadians, as well as their thoughts on how we could combat this problem. We also held online consultations with all Canadians on this issue.

Canadians from all walks of life have told me about how they were duped into believing someone from another country was genuinely in love with them and wanted to get married.  But, once their spouse arrived in Canada, they didn’t even bother to contact them. In other instances, Canadian sponsors had settled into their home with their foreign spouse only to come home one day to an empty house. Their new spouse had skipped town without so much as leaving a note. We believe that there are thousands of such fraudulent marriages and therefore thousands of such victims. 

In addition to the heartbreak and pain that came from being lied to and deceived, these people have told us that they’re angry. They feel that they were used as a way to get into Canada. As you may know, sponsors of foreign spouses are then on the hook to provide financial support to their new spouse for three years. This means that, if their new spouse runs away and decides to claim social assistance, the Canadian sponsor is then required to pay back the full amount of money claimed by the scam artist. Many of these fraudsters also then go on to sponsor a new foreign spouse. That is what I refer to as the “revolving door” of marriage fraud.

Once these people get their permanent residence in Canada, sometimes they quickly divorce the spouse that sponsored them, in order to turn around and sponsor someone else from overseas. And, all too often, money changes hands in the process. So they use someone to come to Canada, and then they divorce them and offer themselves to sponsor someone from abroad – typically for a large fee. They’re actually abusing the person that sponsored them, and then making money off it and scamming Canada’s generosity. This is totally unacceptable.

Currently, in addition to being financially responsible for their spouse for three years, sponsors themselves may not sponsor anyone else during this time – that is to say, if they are permanent residents or citizens. However, there is no such restriction placed on the spouses who come in from overseas. So that’s unfair. Under the current rules, foreign spouses can arrive in Canada, immediately divorce and then, as I’ve said, sponsor someone else to bring them in from abroad. This is a contradiction. This is a huge gap and we needed to correct it.

I have heard firsthand from victims who are still suffering the consequences of marriage fraud years later. They have implored me to do something to stop this from happening to others and that is why we are taking action.

As of today, we are putting a five-year bar on people who come in as sponsored spouses or partners from being able to turn around and sponsor a spouse or partner themselves. The five-year ban comes into effect today.

New regulatory changes that come into force today mean that sponsored spouses or partners will have to wait five years from the day they are granted permanent resident status in Canada before they can sponsor a new spouse or partner from abroad. This bar on sponsorship will help deter foreigners from entering into a marriage of convenience with a Canadian citizen or resident, in order to gain permanent residency and sponsor someone else in. 

Many of these types of marriage fraud scams are commercial in nature, as I’ve said, and this is another reason why they must be stopped. I’ve heard of situations — Sam, you can correct me if I’m wrong — where some people have done this not just once, but two or three times: they divorce, sponsor; divorce, sponsor; divorce, sponsor. And that is an embarrassment to our system.

Sometimes a Canadian family will actually advertise overseas that their son or daughter is available for marriage for a fee, not as a religious arranged marriage but as a strictly commercial one. They will then sponsor the foreigner under the guise of a marriage, with the full intention of divorcing them once they arrive here. We need to stop the revolving door. And today’s regulatory changes will do just that.

Now, I should also say, that we will be making other changes. A week from today, we will be pre-publishing a regulation to impose a new two-year conditional residency period on people who enter Canada as sponsored spouses. And so this regulation will come into effect, we hope, this summer. We’ll be pre-publishing this a week from today, on Friday, March 9. 

We’re very concerned about marriage fraud, which is why we have taken steps to combat this crime with the introduction of a sponsorship bar. What’s even more important, though, is that we are able to stop marriage fraud before it happens. Canadians need to remain vigilant and ensure their foreign spouse is genuinely committed to them before they sponsor them to come to Canada.

In turn, the government must stay ahead of the fraudsters in order to better detect marriage fraud before it happens. To date, we’ve been able to identify a number of organized fraud scams from overseas. Our immigration officers are trained to detect marriage fraud, including fraudulent documents and photos used to commit this crime.

One such example of a scam we identified was in India, where husbands and wives were being Photo-Shopped onto other people’s wedding pictures. So that’s just one example of organized patterns of immigration fraud, detected thanks to the expertise of our Canadian officials overseas.

Combined with other efforts to combat marriage fraud, the sponsorship bar for sponsored spouses will help us to prevent those who abuse our system from coming into Canada. 

These changes are also part of the government’s overarching strategy to tackle the growing problem of immigration fraud. Crooked, unlicensed immigration consultants aid and abet those who wish to abuse our immigration system and fraudulently gain entry to Canada.  That is why we introduced measures to crack down on crooked consultants and it’s also why we are cracking down on other types of immigration fraud, including fraud in our citizenship program.

Many of the people who took part in our online consultations made it abundantly clear to us that marriage fraud poses a significant threat to our immigration system. They voiced that we need to do more to raise awareness of the problem and that’s what we’re doing.

We must also not forget that, when a foreigner commits marriage fraud, it is not only the sponsor who suffers, but our taxpayer benefits such as health care are also affected by these people who cheat their way into Canada.

The problem of marriage fraud is serious and one that will only get worse if we don’t put measures in place to protect the integrity of our system.

Again, I’d like to thank Canadians Against Marriage Fraud for their hard work in bringing my attention to this issue. I want to thank them for their patience. I know this has been a long time in coming. I wish government would move faster, but to make legal changes through the regulatory process takes a lot of time. We initially indicated our intention to regulate in these areas a year ago. We had to go through the election. A new government came into office. Then we had to pre-publish these regulations for public comment. Now the five-year bar comes into effect today, and the two-year conditional status will be pre-published next week and will come into effect this summer. 

All together, this is a strong passage. I do not believe that these measures will absolutely prevent all marriage fraud cases in the future. There will always be some people smart enough to get around the system. But this will make it much more difficult, and this sends a message to the fraudsters that they shouldn’t try to abuse Canada or Canadians. It also sends a message to the victims that the Government of Canada stands with them. 

So I’d now like to invite Sam Bennett to speak on behalf of the victims. Thank you very much.

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