A Toronto area MP is calling on the federal government to make changes to national immigration laws in order to make it harder for immigrants who enter into marriages of convenience so they can live in Canada.
The most common type of fraud occurs after Canadians sponsor foreign spouses to live with them. After being granted permanent residence, the new arrival lands in Canada and abandons the sponsor.
"It's a big problem here," said Bramalea-Gore-Malton Liberal MP Gurbax Singh Malhi. Malhi estimates that within his riding — home to a large South Asian community — he hears about two or three such cases every month.
"This is very unfortunate ... it's a shame for all the people here," he said at a packed Brampton town hall meeting called to address the issue on Thursday night.
'The law is not hard. It's easy to break in.' — Ashpreet Badwal
Ashpreet Badwal, a 35-year-old Brampton resident, is a victim of one of these marriages.
Badwal — who uses a wheelchair because of polio — met her future husband, Indian national Manjit Shahi, on an online forum four years ago. After corresponding with him for a year, she flew to India in November 2007 and married him.
Upon her return to Canada, she tried unsuccessfully at first to sponsor Shahi as a Canadian citizen but that bid was rejected. After spending thousands of dollars appealing the decision, Badwal eventually prevailed. Shahi was granted a permanent residence visa on June 26.
Immediate deportation requested
But Badwal said that when Shahi flew to Toronto's Pearson International Airport earlier this month, he called to say he wasn't going to meet her. She hasn't seen him since, she said. Shahi is believed to still be in Canada.
"The day he was supposed to arrive, everybody was in my home — my friends, my family. But everything was just a dream I guess," Badwal said.
She said those looking to enter a "marriage of convenience" in Canada are after nothing more than a "free ticket."
"The law is not hard. It's easy to break in."
Under Canada's current immigration laws, Badwal is legally responsible for Shahi for up to three years, possibly affecting future sponsorships.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada said earlier this year it is concerned some people are taking advantage of the current system through marriages of convenience.
It proposed amendments that would allow immigration officials to refuse visas to applicants if they suspect a marriage of convenience.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada said the amendment could go into effect next year.
Malhi has sent a letter to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney requesting Shahi's deportation "immediately."
"The longer he is permitted to remain in Canada the more powerful legal arguments he will be able to build in order to either remain permanently or, at the very least, considerably delay his removal," the letter says.
Malhi also said he would like Canada to adopt a system similar to the one in place in countries like Australia and England, where the sponsored person isn't given full permanent resident status until he or she has lived with a spouse for three years.