Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum just announced that he's planning on making changes, in the "next couple of months," that would immediately grant permanent residency to spouses of Canadian citizens, immediately upon their arrival to Canada. While this will do a great deal to tear down the existing system that believes marriage fraud is an elaborate threat to the integrity of the Canadian immigration system, the federal government website still warns, "Do not feel you must help somebody by being part of a marriage of convenience, no matter what the reason. It is not worth the risks."
Currently, the risks faced when sponsoring a foreign national with a marriage of convenience are refusal of the applicant's current visa and a possible ban from travel to Canada for two years. This stays on a person's CIC record forever. The CIC may even take legal action and will almost certainly deport you from Canada. The Canadian sponsor faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $100,000 [$74,000 USD]. While convictions in Canada range from light fines to community service, even the most severe cases of fraud are resolved without jail time.
But when you're dating an immigrant whose legal status is threatened by deportation, a marriage of convenience is the easiest way to keep your current life. Under the pressure of time, it isn't fraud. It's the only option Canada provides.
When my partner's visa application was suddenly shortened by eight months, we knew we had to act fast. We were faced with three choices: marriage, a breakup, or leaving Canada. We knew a breakup wasn't on the table because we were engaged. Leaving Canada wasn't an option because we both have lives we love here. We met with a lawyer who presented us with many options to avoid deportation, but we were advised that marriage was the fastest way for some foreign nationals to get status in Canada.
We had been engaged for a few months and had been dating for nearly two years. We had planned to get married in 2017 outside of Canada. But every day we waited left us closer to losing each other.
So two months ago we headed to our local government office and bought a marriage license. It's that easy!
However, getting married (currently) isn't simply a ticket to citizenship or permanent residency in Canada. You then have to submit a sponsored application for permanent residency. The application process is daunting and requires you to provide excessive amounts of proof regarding the authenticity of your marriage. This includes shared bank account statements, a certificate of marriage, text message backlogs, up to date medical exams, gigabytes of photos, letters from friends and family, screenshots of Facebook relationship status, Facebook wedding announcement threads, shared bills, signed tenancy agreements, vacation itineraries, a strict timeline of your relationship, and numerous shared receipts.
The experience of mining that data in the month leading up to your wedding is heartwarming but painfully meticulous. If you're anything like us, you probably don't keep most of that stuff handy.
The time leading up to our wedding was nothing short of a nightmare. My partner's status as an underclass citizen put a huge strain on our relationship. Dating an immigrant means relegating yourself to dealing with paperwork and tight deadlines. As my partner's work permit expired, they were left without work while we footed about $5,000 [$3,694 USD] in legal bills and application processing fees, and with one half of our partnership becoming financial deadweight, it put an incredible strain on the relationship. There were tensions leading up to the "big day." We were at each other's throats for a month in between bouts of makeup sex. There was a great deal of paranoia on both sides.
There was something perverse about the whole ordeal for everyone on the outside. We had a ton of family who didn't understand but wanted to be involved. We didn't invite any of them. We got married for us, in our way.
Beyond the stress of waiting three weeks for the marriage license to arrive so we could start the application process before my partner's visa expired, there was the application itself. To navigate the documents necessary to apply and have a successful application, it is nearly impossible on your own, and getting any answers takes far too long. If you look at all these forms, you realize that you can't do this fast without a lawyer. Even then, it takes about a year and a half to process.
We got our application in two days before my partner's legal status expired, which means right now they're in working status limbo. I can't attach my name to this for fear of getting flagged. We're incredibly committed to one another, but the rigorous application process and limited time frame doesn't leave any margin for error. Even though our marriage is legal my speaking out could potentially send my partner back to his home country. As of right now, we're still in waiting to see if our application was accepted. At any point we could be called in for an "interview" and could face a home inspection. Our lawyer told us to memorize things like what side of the bed the other prefers, and the color of each other's toothbrushes. Apparently shit gets pretty meticulous in these marriage fraud investigations.
Most people don't get married within the confines of a 500-square-foot apartment. Leading up to my wedding, there was no noise of perceived panic in my head. Instead, I chilled out in a fancy suit watching Bernie Sanders on YouTube. I didn't fully comprehend what was about to happen. Having a civil marriage ceremony is like having a weird and very small party in your house. Except the party only lasts 20 minutes, and you have to pay the guest of honor once it's over.
This wasn't the way we wanted it. We felt strange about making this a big event, since we want to have a bigger wedding in the future. Inviting all your friends and family to celebrate your wedding twice felt indulgent and selfish.
The ceremony was odd, and a little improvised, but our vows were incredibly memorable and impactful. Leading up to the day, I wasn't aware of what was really happening. I had a vague understanding that we were going to commit to one another forever, but the gravity of it doesn't hit you until you're at the altar, or in this case, my living room coffee table.
Everyone gets married for different reasons. But I'm positive we're not the first to marry to expedite a legal process, and we won't be the last.