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On October 29th 2016, the Liberal government issued a statement outlining their proposal to repeal the requirement that a sponsored spouse or partner cohabit with their sponsor for two years following their arrival in Canada. This two year conditional Permanent Residence period was introduced in 2012 in an attempt to deter immigration fraud. Conditional Permanent Residence applies to spouses or common-law partners in a relationship of two years or less, who have no children in common at the time they submit their sponsorship application. If the sponsored person does not cohabit in a legitimate relationship with their sponsor for two years following their arrival in Canada, they could lose their Permanent Resident status.

The introduction of conditional Permanent Residence was intended to deter what IRCC calls “marriages of convenience”, where one or both partners pretend to be in a genuine romantic relationship in order to obtain status in Canada. Unfortunately, these regulations can also place the sponsored spouse or partner at a higher risk of abuse. In cases where the sponsored spouse or partner is suffering abuse or neglect, it is more difficult for them to leave the relationship when they may also be risking their Permanent Resident status. IRCC’s Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement discusses the impact of the current regulations:

“A sponsored spouse or partner can be vulnerable for many reasons, including age, gender, official language proficiency, isolation, and financial dependence on their sponsor. The two-year cohabitation requirement can compound these vulnerabilities, and spouse and partners who are victims of neglect or abuse are most at risk in these situations”.

Sponsored spouses or partners subject to the two year conditional period can request an exemption if they are being abused or neglected by their sponsors. However, there are a number of reasons why a vulnerable spouse or partner may not seek this exemption or even be aware that it exists. Repealing the two year cohabitation requirement is a positive step towards protecting family class applicants who are the victims of abuse by their partners or spouses. While preventing immigration fraud is an important goal, IRCC already has measures in place to detect fraudulent sponsorship applications. Visa Officers are trained to screen applications for signs of fraud, and regularly conduct in-person interviews with applicants and sponsors before approving an application. A sponsored spouse or partner is still barred from sponsoring a new spouse or partner for a five year period.  Preventing immigration fraud should not come at the expense of penalizing victims of domestic abuse.

The proposed amendment will repeal the Regulations relating to the two year cohabitation requirement in full. It is expected to come into force in the spring of 2017.