When a spouse retains my firm for sponsorship (a Canadian spouse wishes to bring their foreign wife/husband, common-law partner or conjugal spouse), my first concern is to know the country of nationality of the foreign spouse. If they are coming from our neighbor, the USA, I feel confident that, at least, the genuineness of the relationship will not be an issue for our immigration authorities. It is usually unlikely that an American citizen, or really any other citizen from economically well-established country, like the UK or Germany, would want to enter into a marriage of convenience for the purpose of gaining legal status in Canada.
So, when one of our clients, retained my office to sponsor her American husband to Canada, I was more than confident that the case would go smoothly into processing. In addition to being an American, that spouse had a mutual child born from the marriage to his Canadian wife.
I was mistaken. In the beginning, as usual, I requested the necessary documents and supporting material evidence proving my clients’ cohabitation. Since the clients were living together for a number of years before hiring my office, it was not a huge deal to present the government with photographs of them together, their kids and other members of that big family. Unfortunately, because of my clients’ poor financial situation (the Canadian spouse was on disability benefits due to her depression and her American husband’s absence of work permit in Canada) they were unable to present me with regular documents such as a joint account, drivers’ licenses, life insurances and utilities bills where both names appear. The couple was residing in Canada for several years prior the opening of their case with immigration authorities and relied almost entirely on the Canadian wife’s disability benefits, their parents’ cash contribution and occasional illegal work of the applicant, the American husband. However, we suggested the couple to strengthen their case by presenting us with statutory declarations of parents, relatives and friends, which they did.
The case was submitted inland because the spouses already resided in Canada. Thus, the waiting time we knew would be years before our American client received his permanent residency. The couple was advised properly and started waiting patiently.
In a year or so, the American spouse got seriously ill and was hospitalized. Since there is no right for provincial health coverage, the medical bills became a huge concern for the family. The situation was aggravated by the fact that my office had limited resources due to a small retainer to push the case forward. We worked on an almost pro bono retainer.
After several requests to our Mississauga processing center where our client’s file was processing, a case officer replied with an invitation for a formal interview. My clients attended without retaining me to represent them personally at the interview. The interview was a simple formality (there are usually two types of interviews, one is just to confirm identities and producing PR confirmation and another one is a thorough examination of spouses’ relationship) and moreover, legal counsel is not permitted by the immigration department’s policies to participate. In addition to this, I was not retained anyway. My clients simply did not have money for me to attend.
They described me the next day that the officer asked just couple of questions about whether or not they had common evidence such as joint account and life insurance and naturally, my clients’ answer was not satisfactory. The interviewing officer seemed to be unaware of their unique circumstances, which was a mistake, in my view. An officer must be trained to deal with different types of situations and be prepared to examine carefully each case on its merits. That officer was probably not exercising due diligence in assessing my clients’ case. To me, it was obvious that a couple who has limited means of financial support, did not have any real estate or even a car, and who were both at the time having medical problems, would be expected to present as evidence of their cohabitation a life insurance policy or tickets of their vacations together. Additionally, and since the interview was set up as a short appointment with the official, my clients were not given any opportunity to explain their situation.
In a week after the interview, my office received a letter from immigration that they were in the position to refuse my clients’ case for the lack of material evidence of their cohabitation in Canada. I immediately objected and requested a full interview. Telling honestly. I could not find much justification for the opinion of the officer as the couple’s mutual child was already 10 years of age or so and they have lived together for many years, which the photographs alone proved. In my opinion the officer should have noticed that my clients even look alike in appearance (both have heavy tattoos and facial piercing.) They are not highly educated therefore could not articulate much. My client are shy people and probably were not prepared that somebody would doubt their union.
The officer must have been trained properly to consider these factors; she had to approach the matter in all sensitivity as the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act allows the decision maker to infer whether a union is genuine or fake. Therefore it is a great responsibility, not a privilege, to make the right decision.
At that time, my client’s health deteriorated and he went through a series of medical treatments and surgery. It became imperative for him to obtain his provincial coverage as soon as possible. He was unable to move back to the United States because of financial reasons. He also had to take care of his child as well as another child of his spouse from her previous relationship who was autistic and required special care. All this information was in the file and presented to the officials, yet it took years to persuade the officer that the case needed to be processed expeditiously.
After the failed interview, I immediately wrote to immigration that I demanded a thorough personal interview with my clients. I also requested that the case be appointed to a senior official for reconsideration. Despite my pushing of the case, it took another several months to schedule a personal interview. It was a long several months of struggle for my client who required another surgery by that time and could not afford to pay for it.
Eventually the interview was scheduled and my clients went prepared fully for it. They were “trained” in my office for a few hours on how to answer the officer’s questions. It’s interesting that it should be the case where two people live together; it would not be difficult to present the truth. This is not the case. Even if the truth is presented, it could be interpreted in any court or official enquiry as false information. One must not only tell the truth, but also be careful in how they give answers.
My clients were lucky to have a reasonable and sensitive examining officer and they also came prepared and therefore confident. The American spouse received his Canadian permanent residence and felt immediately relieved. The couple was absolutely ecstatic.
What are the lessons in this case? If you deal with Canadian immigration, the mere fact of being married, having kids from the union, and being from the United States, is not enough to easily obtain a status. You must present as much evidence as possible to prove you are a genuine couple and entered into a Canadian marriage not for the purpose of immigration.