Arranged marriages and family sponsorship applicationsWritten by Taiwo and Kehinde Olalere
In the majority of situations in Canada, individuals marry people they grew up with or people they meet in social settings such as work, school or on the internet. However, in various religious and ethnic communities such as Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and South Asian communities, arranged marriages where the parents choose their children's spouses, are still common.
From the perspective of the individuals involved, there is the belief that parents are better positioned, wiser and experienced to determine a suitable match and lasting relationship for their loved ones. There is the belief that these type of marriages result in fewer divorces between couples, thereby ensuring stability within the family home.
Irrespective of whether marriages are arranged or not, the legal criteria remain the same: requirements of genuineness of marriage, continuity of marriage and that the marriage was not primarily entered into for purpose of obtaining permanent residence.
However, these family-arranged unions have Canada's immigrations authorities concerned. Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently announced that it would be cracking down on arranged marriages due to cases of fraudulent marriages aimed at gaining illegal entry into Canada.
This article will explain in simple language what Immigration Officers consider in deciding whether to approve or reject the family sponsorship application. Further, it will provide guidance on some of the type of documents that can be used to support sponsorship applications in arranged marriages.
What immigration officers look for
An immigration officer has the responsibility of assessing all the information including application forms and supporting documents to determine whether the case should be accepted or refused.
The question that the immigration officer has to answer when the making a decision is the following:
Taking all the information and documents together, would a reasonably prudent person conclude that the marriage is genuine, continuing and was not primarily entered into for immigration purposes?
To answer this question, the officer assesses:
a) Circumstances before and leading to the arranged marriage.
The couples involved need to provide information relating to how they came into contact with each other. This usually requires a description of how their parents met or how they were introduced to each other, and the factors used in deciding that they were a suitable match for each other. In addition, if the couples themselves participated in some way in the process of the matchmaking and consented to the arranged marriage, this should be stated clearly in the information provided in the application.
b) Circumstances of the couple's first meeting and development of the relationship
In some arranged marriages there is no courtship period and couples do not meet until the wedding. In such circumstances, there may be valid reasons why a meeting never took place such as cultural reasons (dating is frowned upon and unacceptable by the community or religion), civil war or lack of security in the country where the person being sponsored lives, or lack of resources to make the trip to each other's country.
In cases where the couples met prior to the wedding, it is important to describe the meeting(s) in detail along the lines of the 5 W questions (where they met, when they met, who they met, how they met, what was the occasion/reason for the meeting and their view of each other). If there are pictures of the meeting, these should be included in the application and a label containing brief information of the meeting should be pasted or written on it (i.e. Who is in the picture, When it was taken, What was the occasion or event and Where the picture was taken). If there are travel tickets, boarding passes, and photocopies of entry and exit stamps, these should be included to support the application. Pictures taken with applicant or sponsor's family members and friends should be also included. Receipts obtained during of the visit to your spouse or common law partner (e.g. ticket, hotel, restaurants, outings to tourist sites) should be included, if any.
c) Whether the relationship was known by friends, family members, co-workers and how they view the relationship
The applicant should provide information on whether family members, friends and / or co-workers met his sponsor and vice versa. If the couple's family, friends and co-workers have not met, but are aware of the relationship through discussion with them, this information should be provided to the immigration officer.
d) Whether there is interdependence between the couple (emotional support, financial support, sharing of household activities)
Indications of an emotional bond would include pictures showing quality time together and activities engaged in together, information on whether the couple consummated their relationship after marriage, children or information on whether the couple are expecting a child or plan to have children together in the future. Couples do a disservice to themselves when this information is not provided for cultural reasons.
Immigration officers also look for evidence of financial support. This can take various forms, such as opening a joint account or evidence of the sponsor sending money by wire transfer to the applicant. In other cases, it may involve the sponsor making purchases such as clothing and other gifts for the applicant and sending these through an intermediary to the applicant, paying for the applicant's application processing and right of permanent residence fee.
It can also be the other way around whereby the applicant supports the sponsor or shares financial responsibilities. Responsibilities that are shared should be clearly stated and documentation provided.
e) Whether the couple are close in age
A large age gap between spouses can sometimes raise a red flag for immigration authorities. Couples can deal with the issue by providing as much evidence to prove the genuineness of the relationship. Couples should also communicate the acceptability of the age difference in their culture and how they themselves view the age difference. As long as the individuals involved have reached the age of marriage, a reasonable explanation should address the immigration officer's concerns here.
f) Prior history of sponsoring spouses to Canada
If the sponsor has a long immigration history of sponsoring (and thereafter divorcing) their spouses, he/she should take sufficient care to allay any concern or suspicion from the Immigration Officer. Reasons for the divorce/s or separation would be examined closely. Due to the retention policy of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, previous sponsorship applications will be examined to see whether there is a chain relationship or pattern of behaviour from the sponsor (sponsoring, divorcing and marrying again and again and again). This issue can also arise where the recently sponsored person divorces the sponsor and applies to sponsor another person from his/her country
g) Applicant's prior immigration history
If the applicant previously applied to immigrate to Canada and was refused, the reasons need to be sufficiently addressed in other to allay any suspicion from the Immigration Officer.
h) Whether the couple continue to maintain their relationship after marriage
It is important for the couple to demonstrate that their marriage is still continuing despite the fact that they live in different countries. This is particularly important in arranged marriages. Documents such as phone records, phone cards, email correspondences, letters, postcards and love cards demonstrating that the couple are in contact should be included to support the application. After the application is submitted, any updates that support the continuing nature of the relationship, should be sent to the Canadian embassy in the applicant's country.
Irrespective of whether marriages are arranged or not, the legal criteria remain the same: genuineness of marriage, continuity of marriage and that the marriage was not primarily entered into for purpose of obtaining permanent residence. The only distinguishing factor from non-arranged marriages is that arranged marriages are not intrinsic to Canadian culture. Therefore, it is important that couples in arranged marriages provide detailed information and explanations when completing their application forms.
This article is a summary of current legal issues provided by Olalere Law Office. It is current only as of the date of the publication and does not reflect subsequent changes in the law. The contents are intended for general information purposes only and under no circumstances can be relied upon for legal decision-making. Readers are advised to consult with a qualified lawyer regarding specifics of their particular situation.
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