Arranged Marriages Becoming More Common, Officials Say

May 11, 2006: Arranged Marriages Becoming More Common, Officials Say

Arranged marriages becoming more common, officials say

Marriages of convenience are more and more common in Canada, particularly in the Chinese and South Asian communities, immigration lawyers say.

It is often the cultural norm for Chinese Canadians and Indo-Canadians to marry virtual strangers in arranged marriages overseas, making it difficult for immigration officials here to assess the validity of these unions. Foreign students and workers in Canada on temporary visas may also persuade someone to marry them as a favour to be repaid in kind, or for money, from as little as $1,000 to as much as $25,000, according to the immigration lawyers.

Min Chen, a student from China who pleaded guilty this week to second-degree murder in the killing of Cecilia Zhang, claimed he intended only to kidnap the nine-year-old girl so that he could extract a ransom of $25,000 from her parents. Failing in his studies and knowing his student visa would run out, he was copying a friend's desperate ruse and planning to pay $25,000 for a marriage of convenience to secure permanent residency here.

“As long as I've been doing immigration law, there have been marriages of convenience,” said Lorne Waldman, a Toronto immigration lawyer since 1979 who counsels clients not to defraud the system. “Some are done on the basis of friendship. But more and more are done for consideration. There is a lot of, 'if your daughter marries my nephew in India, then my brother will marry your niece from back home,' kind of arrangements.”

The practice isn't restricted to Chinese and South Asian communities; West Indians, Americans, Filipinos, Fijians and exotic dancers from Eastern Europe have also been known to marry for immigration purposes. Many Indo-Canadians whose spousal sponsorships have been rejected complain that it is because of unwarranted suspicions due to the high number of marriages of convenience.

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, every year 9,000 to 10,000 Canadians marry foreigners already in the country and file inland spousal sponsorship applications, compared with an estimated 60,000 Canadians who marry overseas and file international spousal sponsorships. CIC rejects 8 to 10 per cent of inland applications and about 15 per cent of overseas applications, says Marina Wilson, a CIC official.

“We are trying very hard to clamp down on fraudulent marriages,” she said, noting that officials review marriage documents, photographs, e-mails, love letters and may even make house visits. Warning signs include a history of marriages.

If marriages of convenience go undetected, the couple divorce once the spouse receives permanent residency. Some then go on to marry for a second time and sponsor someone from their homeland in a process known as “chain sponsorships.”

“Unlike in the U.S., in Canada there is no requirement to live together for a minimum period of two or three years until permanent residency is granted. In Canada, the spouse gets landed status right away,” noted Sergio Karas, an immigration lawyer. CIC also doesn't have the enforcement staff to pursue fraudulent cases, which often come to light only if the agency is tipped off or the person tries to remarry by sponsoring someone else.

Foreign students and temporary workers looking to prolong their stay here may approach members of their community. Two years ago, 90,668 foreign workers and 56,536 students were admitted to Canada.