Family member immigration amnesty ‘rights a wrong:’ Jeffery

By Paul Russell, Contributor

A two-year pilot project that will allow for the sponsorship of previously undeclared family members is a welcome development, says Toronto immigration lawyer Matthew Jeffery.

“This temporary policy will benefit many people who have immigrated to Canada but for some reason not declared their spouse, partner or children,” says Jeffery, who operates the immigration-focused Matthew Jeffery Barrister & Solicitor office in Toronto.

He explains the current rules stipulate that if someone applies for permanent residence in Canada, but fails to record the existence of their spouse, partner or children on their immigration application, they cannot sponsor them for permanent residence later, even after they obtain permanent residence.

“It’s a permanent ban,” he tells

“If for whatever reason, you didn’t write down that you have a spouse or child on your immigration application, you can never bring them to Canada,” Jeffery stays.

According to a news release from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the two-year pilot project starts on Sept. 19.

“Newcomers who failed to declare immediate family members as they first came to Canada were barred from sponsoring them. Today, we right that wrong,” stated Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

Jeffery says the policy is intended to encourage people to tell the truth when they’re completing their immigration application.

“However the penalty is disproportionate and very severe,” he says, noting there are many reasons why a spouse or child was not declared on an immigration application.

Jeffery says that a person may get married or have a child between the time they first apply to come to Canada and when they are approved, and they may fail to update their application with that information.

“There is often a misunderstanding that the spouse or child could be sponsored later after the application for permanent residence has gone through,” he says.

Male applicants for permanent residence are sometimes unaware of a child that was born from a previous short-term relationship, Jeffery says, and therefore they don’t record the child on their application.

“Then, once they become aware that they have a child born abroad, they are barred from sponsoring the child,” he says.

Another scenario involves children who are in the custody of an ex-spouse in a foreign country, and the applicant is unable to obtain the documentation they need, Jeffery says, or to have the children attend medical examinations.

“So they simply don’t record those children on their immigration application,” he says, “but later on, they might want to sponsor that child if circumstances change.”

Jeffery acknowledges there are instances where people conceal the existence of a spouse or child deliberately, believing that will increase the likelihood of their immigration application being accepted.

“In my experience, most undeclared relatives are due to a misunderstanding of the law or because of circumstances beyond the applicant’s control,” he says. “There are lots of cases where this is purely accidental.”

Up until now, Jeffery says the only way to get around this permanent ban is to apply to sponsor family members on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

“Immigration authorities are very reluctant to grant applications made on this basis,” he says, “and they generally refuse them.”

Jeffrey says the temporary policy “rights a wrong that will benefit many people.”

“The provision that banned the sponsoring of undeclared relatives is really redundant because the immigration department already has the legal tools to hold people to account if they purposely mislead the government in the course of their immigration application,” he says.

For example, Jeffrey says under s. 40(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, a person can lose permanent residence status for filing a false immigration application.

“There are already powerful tools in place to punish those who purposefully misrepresent the facts of their immigration application,” he says.

According to the news release, the amnesty on sponsoring undeclared relatives is limited to three groups of people — resettled refugees, people who were conferred refugee protection in Canada, and those who were sponsored as a spouse, partner or dependent child.

“It doesn’t apply to everybody who immigrated to Canada,” says Jeffery.

Still, “there are quite a few people, probably hundreds maybe even thousands, who could benefit from the policy change,” he says, based on how often he is approached about this issue.

Jeffery describes the amnesty as a “welcome first step” and hopes the pilot project will become permanent.

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