By: Dan Engineer – RCIC, B.Sc
Anyone who has been checking the processing times for Spousal Sponsorships (also known as Family Class-FC1 sponsorships) over the last two weeks will notice a different format in which the information is displayed on the CIC website. It is part of the “Modernized Format” of program delivery and processing time instructions, as promised by CIC. This has caused much concern of late on Twitter and various immigration forums between consultants and clients.In our opinion, the more important question we need to ask ourselves is:
“What can I do as an applicant/sponsor to ensure the smooth processing of my sponsorship application?”
We should note that there are two kinds of spousal sponsorships: “Inside Canada Sponsorships” and “Outside Canada Sponsorships”. Today we are discussing processing delays with outside Canada spousal sponsorships.
If we know that file processing is going to take an average of one year to 18 months anyway, it becomes imperative that the sponsor/applicant are “on the same page” with their counsel/consultant (if they have retained one). If they have not retained an experienced counsel in this regard, we highly recommend that they do so, for a couple of very important reasons to be discussed below. What I mean by this is that clients who are laboring under a false sense of security that they are completely schooled in the process of sponsoring their spouses from a foreign country simply by going on a few immigration forums and by reading the CIC guide on family sponsorship are in for a serious reality check. After all, it is only filling out a few forms, right?
Thankfully most intelligent, pragmatic people understand that navigating the complex maze of immigration programs and constant policy changes that define CIC, are best left to experienced professionals. Yet we continue to see sponsors going to friends and unlicensed (ghost) consultants or worse yet attempt to submit their application on their own.
Whatever the sponsor’s motivation is, he or she needs to understand that when they are ready to retain counsel on this very important application, they need to be totally “honest” with their counsel/consultant. They must be ready to volunteer any and all information about their past relationship or breaks in the relationship, the past history (criminal or otherwise) of their newly-wed spouses and any past immigration history of their spouses. They must be completely honest and forthright with their counsel or consultant preparing the file for them, and not pick and choose what information they deem as “material to the application”, but rather let the consultant decide what constitutes a material fact and what does not. This becomes vitally important if the sponsor and applicant decide to prepare the application by themselves, and this one problem becomes the single most common reason for 90% of delays in immigration processing. When these clients finally decide to seek professional counsel, the damage is unfortunately already done.
Another area of processing delays, which is also brought on by the sponsor (unfortunately) is the sponsor’s intent of where he or she is going to reside ie. Is he /she going to stay in Canada (or abroad) while they wait for their file to be processed by CIC. If a sponsor (who calls you and then becomes your potential client) is a Canadian citizen, he or she is free to reside with the applicant (their spouse) in their home country, if their personal financial circumstances allow for that. It is quite natural that newly-wed married couples miss each other terribly and invest a hefty amount of time chatting with each other on social media. It is also quite normal to find Canadian sponsors who are self-employed or employed in the home country of their spouse, or not employed at all and choose to cohabitate with their spouses in their spouses’ country of residence. As Canadians, they are permitted to do so according to Canadian immigration law. A common example of this maybe that a Canadian citizen, a young lady enters into an arranged marriage with a man in UAE, or Saudi Arabia where the husband (applicant) holds a lucrative job paying a better salary than the sponsor’s own job in Canada. Another scenario is that she may not be employed at all in Canada. She may choose to live with him and cohabitate until the visa is ready to be issued, provided she attests that she will return to Canada when her husband’s PR visa is approved. At this time the Regulations (IRPR) state that she (the sponsor) must accompany her husband (the applicant) back to Canada at which time the husband (applicant) is issued his Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR), at the port of entry. What most Gulf residents do is that after a week of receiving their COPR (the PR card is mailed about 60 days later, to a Canadian address provided by the applicant) they return back to the Gulf having no intention of ever residing in Canada. This has been going on for a long time now. They are in the enviable position of having their PR cards being automatically renewed by virtue of the fact that their respective spouses are Canadian citizens and every day spent with a Canadian citizen spouse is considered by CIC as a day spent in Canada with respect to their PR card renewal. In other words, they are exempt from their residency obligation of 730 days spent in Canada in five years.
This practice has now been effectively put to rest since the last two or three years by Canadian visa posts (in the Gulf mainly, where a lot of this has been happening) responsible for outside Canada spousal sponsorship processing, mainly the Canadian embassy in Abu Dhabi. They ask the applicant to provide proof of severing all ties with the UAE, Saudi Arabia or the other Gulf States. This may include giving up their residency permits, closing bank accounts and tendering their resignations from their respective jobs “before they are approved of their PR visas to Canada. Sponsors and applicants providing lukewarm alternatives like evidence of unsuccessful job search in Canada or an alternative project offered by a Canadian company located in the Gulf, risk having their spousal sponsorship refused, thus facing an appeal at the Immigration Appeal division (IAD) a scenario which is totally avoidable had they got clear guidance at the outset.
Yet another problem comes when sponsors who are Permanent Residents of Canada choose to live with their spouses abroad while waiting for CIC to process their files. A sponsor who is Not a Canadian, but a Permanent Resident of Canada must remain in Canada (with some exceptions) while their sponsorship applications are being processed abroad. The exception is short trips are taken by the sponsor to spend time with their respective spouses, or “family emergency” trips. This is a commonly known fact. If a sponsor is not aware of this and has retained you, it is the counsel’s fiduciary obligation to make that fact clearly known to him/her. However, some sponsors may decide to skirt the law by staying on with their spouses in their home countries for the significantly longer period than they let on – even to their own counsels.
A case in point is a situation where a sponsor who is a Permanent Resident of Canada (not a citizen) retains counsel for a sponsorship application and informs the counsel that he / she is leaving for their home country for a short trip, after submission of the application. Months pass and he / she gets Stage-1 approval at Case Processing Centre- Mississauga (CPC-M), the CIC office responsible for approving the sponsor in Canada. Unknown to many counsels who are busy in their one-person practices, and who possibly cannot keep tabs on all their sponsor clients all the time, do not even know that the sponsor may have unwittingly “over-stretched” the CIC’s definition of a short trip. In other words, the file processing has now reached the overseas visa post and the sponsor who told you he may be visiting his newly-wed or pregnant wife for a few weeks has not returned to Canada in over six months. Now the visa post may request evidence of email, telephone or social media correspondence between sponsor and applicant. How can the counsel provide that history of communication when the sponsor was, in fact, cohabitating with the applicant without the counsel’s or CIC’s knowledge? This situation seriously undermines the credibility of the whole sponsorship process. The sponsor’s indifference to basic CIC guidelines is to blame for this situation which is totally avoidable by using simple common sense and a basic rapport with the consultant. It is mind-boggling that some sponsors (PR’s) who return to Canada after six months or so want to repeat the same process again despite the warning of their counsels. Good luck to them. These clients are flirting with the very real danger of being potentially charged with “misrepresentation of facts” and a 5-year bar from sponsoring.
Is there any wonder why we have some clients whose applications get processed in record time and some clients who seem to be facing unreasonably long delays. Not all processing delays are CIC-induced. Our advice to our clients always remains the same:
“Follow common sense rules that make the visa officer’s job of processing your file easy and processing delays will be cut to a minimum.” We seriously wish all clients heed this one important advice.