IRCC officers need to be mindful of cultural biases

By Kirsten McMahon, Associate Editor

When assessing spousal sponsorship applications, Canadian immigration authorities tend to apply their cultural biases as to what constitutes a genuine relationship, Toronto immigration lawyer Matthew Jeffery tells

“In the course of a spousal sponsorship application, an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officer is required to assess the genuineness of the relationship and that the sponsorship is not simply for immigration purposes only,” says Jeffery, who operates the immigration-focused Matthew Jeffery Barrister & Solicitor.

“Unfortunately, in making this subjective assessment, some immigration officers apply discriminatory and inappropriate criteria such as minor differences in age, race, language or culture,” he says.

During question period earlier this month, Federal NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan asked Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to look into what she called ‘a systemic problem’ with the way the IRCC treats spousal sponsorship program applications, Canadian Press reports.

Kwan said a letter sent by a Canadian immigration officer to a couple questioning the legitimacy of their marriage includes language that is "offensive and insulting."

“The letter, from a Canadian immigration officer based in London, England, to a female applicant from Pakistan, says her permanent residency application appears suspect for a number of reasons — including that she is three years older than her husband, a Canadian citizen who has lived in Canada since 2005,” the article states.

Canadian Press obtained a copy of the letter — written by an unnamed immigration officer — which said: “You and your sponsor (husband) do not appear well matched. You are three years older than him, he comes from a town four hours from where you live and you are not related, so it is unclear to me why the match was made.''

He went on to state it’s unusual for Pakistani men to marry older women, especially if they are not related, and also noted that their wedding guest list was small.

"This apparent deviation from the cultural norm raises concerns that your wedding may have taken place in order for you to gain permanent residence in Canada,” the letter alleged.

Kwan said she followed up with the department, only to find letters with such language are routinely sent to spousal sponsorship applicants from Pakistan, Canadian Press reports.

“Who are they to judge whether or not that marriage is well-matched?'' Kwan said.

“It's one thing to say, 'I do not believe in the authenticity of this marriage,' it's another to make a judgment on the quality of the marriage ... I find that offensive.”

Jeffery says Kwan touches on an issue that affects every Canadian who attempts to sponsor their foreign spouse or partner.

“Immigration authorities tend to apply Western class and culture biases when assessing what constitutes a genuine relationship,” he says. “They may not always be mindful that every culture is different. As societal views shift, relationships between people of different ages, races, classes and cultures are becoming increasingly common.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the program during question period, Canadian Press reports, saying he was pleased his government has reduced a backlog of applications under spousal sponsorship and has also cut waiting times in half.

“We also know there is more to do,'' Trudeau said.

— with files from Canadian Press

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