Internal government reports indicate that more than one-third of spousal immigration applications that Canada receives may involve sham marriages, posing a « threat to Canada’s immigration program ».
The 2013 report by Canada Border Services Agency’s enforcement and intelligence operations directorate suggests that applications that involve « marriages of convenience » are on the rise and are presumed to be linked to organized crime.
The report has identified 10-15 « high-risk » countries from where ‘bogus’ spouses are sponsored by Canadian permanent residents using the family-class section of the immigration system. These countries include China, Cambodia, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Ghana, Vietnam, Nigeria, Haiti, Ethiopia, and Guyana, with India alone accounting for about 36% of fraudulent « spousal caseload ».
The report also warns about the adverse effects of India’s skewed sex-ratio due to the preference for male children and sex-selective abortions, with implications for Canada’s immigration system. According to the report, the phenomenon has caused gender disparity within Indo-Canadian communities, resulting in a shortage of Indian women of marriageable age.
« There will be more competition for men to find opposite-sex marriage partners leading to possible increased family pressure on Indo-Canadian females to marry Indian men from Canada or abroad, as the children who were born after the sonogram revolution come to be of marriageable age, » says the report titled « Marriages in India ».
Immigration experts say that the report definitely raises a legitimate concern over marriage fraud, but they believe the trend will decline in the future due to the government’s increased vigilance along with the immigration system’s preference for economic immigrants over family members. The experts also say that the link drawn between marriage fraud and the shortage of Indian women of marriageable age due to sex-selective abortion practices in India is « far-fetched ».
The report highlights the practices of honor killings and forced marriages in India, issues that have prompted the Harper government’s strong support for the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. The bill, which has been passed in the Senate and is currently under review by a House of Commons committee, proposes to make any foreign national or permanent resident practicing polygamy inadmissible into Canada and proposes other changes in law to discourage forced and/or child marriages.
« We wish we could say in the Canada of 2014 that these were no longer challenges for us domestically. But as we know from communities across the country and from the daily fact of violence against women, they remain challenges and we remain duty bound to act against them, » said Immigration Minister Chris Alexander in a statement issued in December last year.
Federal documents reveal that Canada refused about 14% of spousal applications from all countries between 2008 and 2011. The year 2012 saw an increased refusal rate of 17%.