April 28, 2017 – The removal of Conditional Permanent Residence by the Government of Canada

On April 28, 2017, the Government of Canada eliminated Conditional Permanent Residence for spouses and partners of permanent Canadian citizens and permanent residents who were in a relationship of two years or less and had no children in common, at the time of their sponsorship application.[1]

The removal of CPR went largely unnoticed in the media and on social media circles. Nevertheless, the elimination of ‘conditional spousal visas’ is a measure acclaimed by advocates of immigrant women’s rights to live on terms of equality and in safety from fear. [2]

The elimination of CPR removes what was effectively a tool of abuse.

Not only did it (CPR; parentheses inserted) require the foreign spouse to cohabit with the Canadian sponsor for a minimum of two years to be eligible to keep the permanent resident status, the sponsored spouse was also banned from sponsoring a new spouse within five years of landing in Canada. [2]

The 2012 imposition of CPR  kept immigrant spouses and partners from disclosing abuse due to fear that they would be deported if they left their abusive spouse during the first two years of entering Canada as a sponsored spouse or partner. See also the earlier posts on this site about CPR and the damage it did (here  and here).

Sponsored spouses and partners suffering abuse faced a singularly unpleasant set of scenarios:

(1) face the risk of deportation if they left the marriage or partnership during the 2 year period of ‘mandatory cohabitation’ after landing

(2) engage in the arduous task of seeking an exception from the condition, which was possible in two situations (i) if the sponsor were to die or (ii) if the sponsored person could adduce evidence of her abuse and/or neglect at the hands of the sponsor).

While it was possible to obtain an ‘exception’ from the CPR condition on grounds of abuse, women coming forward to seek exceptions on this ground were few and far between. Alongside CPR, the factors that kept women locked into abuse included socio-economic isolation and dependency, the traumatizing effects of abuse, and the sociocultural stigmatization of ‘failed marriages.’

Getting an exception from CPR was not easy. The burden of gathering documentary proof of abuse was on the person suffering the abuse, who would need to cope with often inadequate access to professional support and the harshness of immigration bureaucracy. To gather the documentation and get through the process, significant effort and tenacity were needed, not only from the survivor but also from her support worker and legal counsel (if she had them at all).

According to a University of Toronto study in 2015, women made up 64 per cent of sponsored spouses with conditional permanent residence, many of them from countries in the Middle East and South Asia.

In its first two years of operation, government data showed only 57 women submitted applications asking for exception to the two-year requirement based on a relationship of abuse and neglect. Of the 57 requests, 75 per cent were successful. [2]

In the 2012-2017 period that CPR was in place, there was little to show that it had had any limiting effect on the prevention of ‘marriage fraud,’ the official rationale for it being instituted in the first place. Indeed, there had never been much convincing evidence that ‘marriage fraud’ or marriages of convenience had been much of a problem in Canada to start with. The removal of CPR is a recognition of the flimsy basis for its original imposition on immigrant families. It is also a recognition that vulnerable immigrant wives bore the brunt of the negative effects of this highly questionable set of Canadian immigration rules.

The long-term implications of the removal of CPR require observation and analysis. On the positive side, the removal of CPR removes one significant official barrier to help seeking by abused spouses and partners. It sends positive messages about where Canada stands on the rights of immigrant women to live lives of safety and parity.

But one swallow does not a spring make. There are still many questions and concerns. For example, immigrant spouses are still vulnerable to socio-economic isolation, dependency, patriarchal mores at home, and racism (covert and overt) in wider society. Sponsored spouses are still not allowed to sponsor other family members within 5 years of landing in Canada, which opens questions about the limits to family reunification (e.g with an aged parent or other family). The anti-violence service landscape is still strapped for resources to help those who do come forward to seek help. And while the removal of CPR frees up service resources to help women leave abuse behind, we need to consider that an increase in the numbers of help seekers calls for a proportional investment of resources in anti-violence services.

References

[1]Government of Canada (2017, April 28). Notice – Government of Canada Eliminates Conditional Permanent Residence. Retrieved on May 1, 2017 from http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/notices/2017-04-28.asp

[2]Advocates hail end to ‘conditional’ spousal visas. Retrieved on May 1, 2017 from https://www.thestar.com/news/immigration/2017/04/28/advocates-hail-end-to-conditional-spousal-visas.html

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