Proposed changes to Canada's immigration laws have some Canadians with roots in South Asia worried that arranged marriages will face increased scrutiny from immigration officials.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada officials want to crack down on marriages of convenience that adopt the guise of an arranged marriage. But a proposed change to the law could frustrate couples who decide to marry through such a union.
The tradition of an arranged marriage is a way for many to stay connected with the culture of their ancestors. Some matches may come from as far away as India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan.
One of the rights Canadian citizens have is the ability to sponsor a wife or husband for Canadian citizenship.
Monday marks the end of a 30-day consultation period of Section R4 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which deals with so-called bad faith marriages.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada is concerned some people are taking advantage of the current system through marriages of convenience.
CIC has proposed amendments that would allow immigration officials to refuse visas to applicants if they suspect a marriage of convenience.
But opponents to the plan say that in a traditional arranged marriage, the relationship really begins after the marriage happens. In many arranged marriages, partners here are seen as a good match simply because they live in Canada and have successful lives.
Vaseeharam Sabaratanam and his wife Shaline Mohanadas were married two years ago in Malaysia, where Shaline is from.
"We were introduced by a friend over the phone," said Mohanadas. "We got to know each other for a few months over the phone, he proposed to me over the phone after knowing each other for about six months. So we never dated or anything such as that."
But it took two years before the couple could start a life together in Toronto, where Sabaratanam lives. Under the new rules, couples like them could have their applications subjected to more scrutiny or rejected outright. A spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration said the amendment could come into effect within 18 months.
Imran Qayyum is the chair of the Canadian Migration Institute and represents about 1,750 immigration consultants and lawyers across the country.
He said because couples in arranged marriages often don't meet until they are married, such unions may falsely raise red flags with government officials.
"The visa officer could assume that the marriage was entered into primarily for immigration," said Qayyum. "And the visa officer could refuse it even though it might be a genuine marriage."
The Canadian Migration Institute has submitted objections to Ottawa, arguing that the proposal could also stop honest arranged marriages, especially from South Asia, where parents arrange 90 per cent of marriages and matches from the West are highly sought after.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada says the amendment could go into effect within 18 months.