New Canadian Media

Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver

The Liberal Government finally delivered on their long-standing campaign promise to end conditional permanent residency for spouses on April 28.

Previously introduced in October 2012 by the Conservative government, the conditional permanent residence regulation required those who were in a relationship for two years or less and had no children to live with their sponsors for two years after they became permanent residents. Some exceptions were carved out for individuals who were victims of abuse or neglect. The Toronto Star (Nicholas Keung) reported that only 57 individuals sought an exemption and were successful in 75 per cent of their exemption requests.

The negative consequences of conditional permanent residency were often borne by vulnerable women and their young newly-born children. New to Canada and without a support network, they were victimized by their abusive spouses, but often too scared to seek help.

While the exception provisions allowed for a streamlined process to contact Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in these circumstances, I had several women subject to conditional permanent residence tell me first-hand stories of being prevented access to computers, phones, even the internet. In one case, I had a woman tell me that she locked herself in a bathroom just to communicate with me as we prepared her case.

Another woman told me about feigning sleep in order to avoid the verbal and psychological abuse of a partner coming home violent and intoxicated. All of this because they were afraid to leave their spouses and put their status in Canada at risk.

I am glad these individuals can now sleep better at night and enjoy the security that all Canadians rightfully enjoy.

Conditional permanent residence created more harm than good.

It is important to note that that these stories did not only come from vulnerable women. They also came from male conditional permanent residents who were abandoned by their spouses, as well as the LGBTQ2+. Many of these relationships broke down foremost as a result of infidelity, leading later to abuse and neglect – a sequence of events that the earlier exceptions policy appears to have overlooked. 

Conditional permanent residence created more harm than good, more uncertainty. For this, I am glad it is a thing of the past and we can move forward.

Immigrant Marriage Breakdowns ≠Marriages of Convenience

Moving forward, in my view, begins by re-framing the two issues of marriage fraud and marriage breakdown. We should not use the end of the conditional permanent residence requirement as a pretext to now second guess or re-scrutinize the genuineness and immigration intent of a majority (85%+) of bona-fide immigrant marriages. The end of conditional permanent residence, I hope, will not lend cover to sponsors trying to remove their sponsored spouses from Canada.

The reality with sponsorship of immigrant spouses is that a significant portion of genuine marriages will end up breaking down. While academic research is limited in this area, my hypothesis is based on the following:

First, I believe economic challenges have a greater negative effective on immigrant marriages and common-law partnership. Piecing together what we do know, recent Canada statistics show that 48% of all marriages are now ending in divorce, with financial issues and adultery among the leading causes. Poverty affects racialized individuals at a rate four times greater than non-racialized families and past studies have found immigrants who have been in Canada less than five years are 11 percentage points more likely to be in poverty than other Canadians. Furthermore, immigrant families, receive less in household income and are less likely to own homes than non-immigrant families. New Canadian immigrants, especially women, are often more likely to face labour market challenges and experiences with precarious work conditions.

Second, I suggest that cultural shock also contributes to marriage breakdown by creating consequences such as the return of the sponsored spouse to their home country, abandonment, and adultery. Carmen Munoz, Program Manager for the Cross-Cultural Peer Support Group Program for Immigrant and Refugee Women (CCPSGP) highlights in a piece she writes the challenges new immigrant women face which include experiencing “intense culture shock, isolation, depression, frustration and an overwhelming sense of confusion, which in turn, not only manifests itself mentally, but through physical reactions as well.”

The cultural pressures, the economic pressures, and often extended family pressures (from both the Sponsor and the Applicant) can coalesce and intersect into major challenges for immigrant marriages and common-law partnerships.

Unfortunately, conditional permanent residence lumped the issue of marriage breakdown unnecessarily into the marriage fraud debate, inputting bad intentions where more often than not none existed. Not only did it punish genuine couples often at their most vulnerable moments, but it also led to not enough focus being placed to eliminating the actual root causes of marriage fraud – unauthorized legal practitioners both in Canada and internationally who set up marriages of convenience for their own financial gain.

Ultimately, I suggest that Parliament should focus on creating conditions that strengthen immigrant marriages and prevent systemic abuse of our sponsorship system, rather than enforcing back-end restrictions that may aggravate the challenges faced by new Canadian families. 


Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former member of New Canadian Media's board of directors and a current member of the Not-for-profit corporation. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.

Published in Policy
Wednesday, 01 February 2017 13:00

Listening to our International Students

Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver
 
Canada’s international students, particularly those in major metropolitan cities such as Toronto and Vancouver, have been subject to intense criticism over the last year.
 
The students – over 363,000 of them – have been blamed directly or indirectly for a range of social problems, such as overheated rental markets, unaffordable housing, burden on public services, cheating, and bizarrely, even driving pricey cars.
 
The bulk of these criticisms are based on anecdotal accounts, in the absence of any strong statistical evidence. These accounts come from professors who study and interview as part of their work, and anonymous, retired institutional administrators who can now share stories freely, without needing to validate their assertions.  
 
These accounts also come from journalists looking to report on the latest cross-cultural phenomenon. At the end of the day, while they may capture some of the reality and part of the story, they are ultimately one-sided.  
 
Outsider narrative
What bothers me, as the Canadian-born son of a 1980’s international student and as someone who is now married to an international student, is that this outsider narrative represents only one side of the story. In drawing many of our conclusions, we have not been good listeners of international students, the true insiders.
 
In reality, we have generally silenced their perspectives and ignored their challenges, and taken for granted our own privileges while laying blame and assigning motives.
For starters, it is worth noting that an overwhelming majority of international students are bona-fide, meaning they are genuine, immigration law-abiding students.
 
In 2014, Canadian Bureau of International Education counted 336,000 international students, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (as it was then called) estimated that 20,000 of them were considered “high risk”, that is, likely to violate immigration law.
 
This accounts for only about six per cent of all international students admitted into Canada.
 
Jumping hoops
Next, it is important to hear from international students themselves to learn about the challenges and barriers they face, and for often understandable reasons do not feel like sharing them publicly. In my own practice, I have found that there are three major barriers.

Firstly, Canada’s own immigration policies have made it difficult for international students. On the front end, the financial requirements are difficult to meet. International students need to show unreasonably high available funds just to be approved for study permits and seek extensions for their studies.  The prohibitive cost of international tuition forces many students to take a break from their studies or resort to extreme measures (like taking up jobs in violation of their study permits or taking out private loans) to keep with the payments.

Once a student is here, Canada currently has a restrictive requirement that students ‘actively-pursue studies.’ Educational institutions now have two-tiered policies, under which international students are subject to excessive monitoring and reporting requirements. Depending on the institution, international students have to take a certain number of courses and maintain a certain attendance rate, while domestic students do not. Students with family emergencies, mental health episodes, poor grades, or who simply want to explore a different area, are often hamstrung.
 
On the back end, once they are ready to graduate, these same international students have difficulty obtaining post-graduate work permits based on their study history. Without the work experience from these permits, the already difficult pathway to permanent residence is mostly closed.
 
Societal barriers
Secondly, there are major societal barriers against international students. I have worked with many international student advisors at universities and colleges who recount anecdotal stories of students breaking down as a result of mental health issues. Without family and often inadequate knowledge or language ability to seek professional help, these students are particularly vulnerable.
 
Institutions, I am told by these students, have not always done the best to accommodate their cultural differences or to eliminate discriminative practices or advise without implicit biases. These issues are almost never reported in the media.
 
Finally, there is an underbelly of inadequate (often unethical) third-party services being offered and provided to international students. Many of these purported advisors are untrained and unqualified educational consultants and agents. Inevitably, if not sooner rather than later, students advised by these individuals find themselves personally liable in situations akin to fraud or misrepresentation, for which there are severe criminal and immigration consequences.
 
Seat at the table
Regardless of the economic and political questions raised by student immigration, we must not forget that international students need to have a seat at the policy-making table. We have seen the example from down south about what happens when immigration law is mandated by public opinion, fear, and top-down orders.
 
If we continue down this path of blaming and not understanding, I foresee only increased fracturing within our already increasingly fragile mosaic.
 
Ultimately, international students can only become an important asset when we as a society stop viewing them solely as cash cows or visitors. We should be viewing as prospective future citizens.
 
Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer based in Vancouver, B.C., with a practice primary focused on complex immigration applications and refusals on behalf of educational institutions and international students. Tao is a former New Canadian Media Board Member. He currently sits on the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia’s Equality and Diversity Committee and on the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Communities Advisory Committee.
Published in Education
Saturday, 09 April 2016 12:17

Name Calling in Vancouver

Commentary by Will Tao in Vancouver, British Columbia

The foreign-ownership and housing affordability debate is currently the most reported and talked about socio-political issue in the City of Vancouver.

Truthfully, for those of us who care immensely about this city’s future, it is not an easy conversation. Regardless of partisan politics or ethnic background or even financial wealth, few would disagree that some form of a solution is needed urgently to address the growing concern of working class Vancouver families and professionals.

Browsing through the foreign ownership studies and anecdotal stories over the past year, I cannot help but feel very conflicted on a personal level. I am a young lawyer in Vancouver, earning a decent salary. However, when I subtract my expenses and debts, I too could become someone who will be renting in Vancouver, living paycheck to paycheck with no guarantee of any future ownership prospects.

Yet, I am fortunate. I am painfully aware that many families with young children cannot even afford rent, let alone food or clothing.

The west side

My interpretation of the foreign ownership debate is influenced by my self-identification as a Chinese-Canadian born in Canada. I have lived at home much of my life. My home happens to be on the much-discussed west side of Vancouver.

My parents, both naturalized Canadian citizens, immigrated to Canada from China in the late 80’s, carrying with them non-anglicized names that they never changed. In fact, my legal name is itself non-anglicized (the Chinese name comes first). According to current ‘name-analysis’ study methods, my parents would be classified as foreign owners even though they have been Canadian citizens for over two decades.

According to current ‘name-analysis’ study methods, my parents would be classified as foreign owners even though they have been Canadian citizens for over two decades.

I can also anecdotally report that there are many families like mine all across the city: Asian-Canadian families that have been in this country long enough that the tag of “foreign” should not logically apply. Yet, I have also noticed a trend of more recent arrivals.

However, many of these individuals, too, are legally Canadian. They hold permanent resident cards; many of them have also obtained citizenship, and aside from the length of time spent here, they are as Canadian as you and I. This begs the question, what separates a foreign owner from a Canadian owner? Can we even tell the difference?

Media narrative

I suggest that the current media narrative is incomplete. My story of how we ended up on the west side, living in homes that are now valued at over a million dollars, does not square with the current brouhaha around "wealth and investment". 

As second-generation Canadians or Canadians who arrived in their early years, or, in some cases, in late high school, our families worked long hours, multiple jobs, and moved from basement to basement. My parents, like many other immigrant parents, sacrificed their own material well-being, rarely taking family vacations and working full-time jobs, to be able to afford a house in Vancouver.

Many of our parents successfully started businesses in Canada, often taking risks after periods of under-employment or under-recognition in the mainstream economy. They gave their businesses ethnic-sounding names to honour their immigrant roots or their intended client base. These businesses often focused on export-import, providing language-specific services, including a global trade element.

These businesses, along with immigration to Vancouver, flourished in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Ironically, some of these businesses (restaurants, consultancies, and sole proprietorships) are the very ‘Canadian’ ones newspaper columns and some community commentators are targetting for carrying ethnic names.

"Astronaut families"

Another trend among these families is that several of them (my late father included) had a family member return to China to pursue economic opportunity. On paper, this may sound like an “astronaut family,” a term that has taken on a somewhat derogatory tone for the “over privileged” children and wives that the parent supposedly left behind.

However, for a majority of families that I know, economic opportunity, leadership positions and a salary more in keeping with what they deserved, were beyond reach, leading them to take the life-altering decision to leave Vancouver. Working abroad in global companies that respected their ability to understand both cultures, doubled and tripled their compensation and even more importantly, rewarded them with management positions.

My parents, like many other immigrant parents, sacrificed their own material well-being, rarely taking family vacations and working full-time jobs, to be able to afford a house in Vancouver.

Ironically, my generation (similar to my parents' generation) is now facing similar challenges in the local job market. The Toronto Star recently reported on how having a “non-anglicized name” or “ethnic resume” has led to challenges obtaining employment.

It is no surprise that with these barriers many Canadian-born and -raised graduates and professionals are pursuing career opportunities overseas, earning higher incomes. Many of these individuals are returning to Vancouver when they are financially stable, buying condos and houses, partners and children in tow.

The problem then becomes, who are these so-called “foreign-owners”? In my opinion, it cannot be as simple as searching up non-anglicized names in a real estate registry. Any attempts to levy taxes or penalties must inevitably transcend race, ethnicity, and country of origin to be consistent with fundamental Canadian values and rights.

Will Tao is a Canadian Immigration Lawyer at Larlee Rosenberg, Barristers and Solicitors, in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is also a director at New Canadian Media.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

by Marco Campana in Toronto

When it comes to technology use, immigrants to Canada are well ahead of settlement agencies. It’s a reality the sector needs to face. Organizations can and need to incorporate technology more effectively to serve their clients.

In 2007, Statistics Canada reported that 78 per cent of immigrants who arrived in Canada during the last 10 years used the Internet - a higher percentage than the 75 per cent of people born in Canada who used it.

Yahoo! Canada confirms that trend in its 2014 Digital Acculturation study, which found that, “When it comes to media preferences, new Canadians are digital first, with a particular focus on mobile devices.”

They’re mobile, actively using niche social networks, apps and services that are not necessarily mainstream in Canada.

New Canadians are actively using niche social networks, apps and services that are not necessarily mainstream in Canada. They’re coming from countries where Internet growth is explosive, faster, cheaper and where online learning is becoming popular.

Settlement agencies need to explore technology use in source countries like China, India and the Phillipines, to understand the technology profile of newcomers to Canada. In many cases, agencies can start with their own staff members – certainly, they should be asking their clients.

Opportunity for settlement agencies, ethnic media

With the pre-eminence of social media, word of mouth information about immigration and settlement is increasingly shared online. Tens of thousands of newcomers share information and orientation on social networking sites like:

These websites are in English, but there are many more in other languages.

We already know that a relatively small percentage of newcomers access mainstream in-person government and community services. Online social networking sites mean they’re potentially bypassing these services even more.

If newcomers continue to bypass settlement agencies, how informed will they be when it comes to their settlement needs?

If newcomers continue to bypass settlement agencies, how informed will they be when it comes to their settlement needs? How effective are newcomer networks and word of mouth? The results are mixed.

In 2010, the Toronto Immigrant Employment Data Initiative found that “immigrants who found their current job through personal initiative, family or friends, and Canada employment centres had the lowest average hourly wages.”

This is not to say that the newcomer networks are not without value or importance. Far from it.

But, it makes me wonder how we can better ensure newcomers’ digital literacy results in better access to settlement information and resources.

There is a role here for settlement agencies. There is also a role for ethnic media. Research has shown that ethnic media can do a much better job informing and orienting newcomers to life in Canada.

Private immigrant-serving businesses and organizations are also looking at how to best use technology and social media to provide services.

In a recent article, Vancouver-based Will Tao wrote about his impressions of how technology is impacting services provided by Canadian immigration lawyers. He notes a few specific trends that should be examined:

  1. Increased use of technology to gather information from potential clients in advance of serving them
  2. Increased use of technology and applications to manage communication
  3. Increased use of technology as a means of establishing communication with, and serving, clients in other cities/countries around the world (i.e. pre-arrival services) 

Use of technology

While online service is still in its infancy in the settlement sector, there are great examples of innovative agencies offering online and hybrid services across the country.

Organizations like Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, COSTI Immigrant Services, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, CultureLink, South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services, Canadian Immigrant Integration Program, North York Community House and Catholic Crosscultural Services have been offering online services and courses in recent years with much success.

We’re certainly not effectively mining and sharing their learning and knowledge across the sector.

In fact, CultureLink recently completed its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for newcomers: Create an Expert LinkedIn Profile for Job Search. The pilot course had 2,000 participants.

Last week, ISANS launched its Settlement Online Pre-Arrival service. It’s an important step forward in providing settlement resources online, before newcomers arrive.

The more I speak to individual settlement workers, the more pockets of service innovation I find.

They’re using this tech to serve their clients. They want to do more. However, we’re not harnessing their knowledge and experience to create better organizational systems, or to create policies to drive innovation around the possibilities technology offers as a means of providing service.

We’re certainly not effectively mining and sharing their learning and knowledge across the sector.

As we imagine the settlement agency of the future, we first need to better understand the digital and settlement literacy of immigrants to Canada. It’s time to start asking them how they’re using technology, how they want to interact with us, and where technology fits into this.

For immigrant-serving agencies, the future is right in front of them. The answers lie with their clients.


Marco Campana does freelance communications work with organizations that serve immigrants, refugees and promote diversity. He provides social media support, writing, editing and internal website consultation and strategy. In particular, he helps settlement agencies harness and implement social media and technology in their community service work.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

by Will Tao in Vancouver 

Dear Hon. Minister McCallum:

I want to take this opportunity to share with my thoughts on family reunification.

Attending an early platform-planning conversation you organized in 2014, it became clear that family reunification and the challenges faced by new Canadian immigrant families formed the central issue of stakeholder concerns with the immigration system.

A year later, in September 2015, I was not at all surprised when the Liberal party released its immigration platform focused on family reunification as a core priority.

I applaud your party’s pledge to give spouses immigrating to Canada immediate permanent residency and drop the current two-year waiting period.

Rather than protect sponsors from being victims of marriage of convenience schemes, this rule trapped foreign national spouses by tying their statuses completely to their sponsors.

Foreign national spouses were left with little recourse in the case of psychological abuse, adultery, or other types of marriage breakdown.

Foreign national spouses were left with little recourse in the case of psychological abuse, adultery, or other types of marriage breakdown. While some channels were available to report wrongdoing, the law put applicants in a difficult and vulnerable situation.

Along a similar line, the return of the maximum age of a dependent child to 22 from 19 is good for Canadians. This rule prevented several families from uniting due to the fact their children were too old and several years away from any possibility of their own economic immigration.

Canadian families and their reunification concerns

Before writing you, I thought I would survey several stakeholders – sponsors and applicants – who are currently in the process of sponsoring spouses and family members.

You may be interested to note that backlogs and processing times are not the overwhelming source of concerns.

Instead, the way immigration authorities are handling their inquiries and applications, and their lack of short-term options in Canada topped the list.

While Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) provides several instruction guides, they are unavailable in non-official languages and often list only minimum requirements.

Because of this, Canadian families have to spend money hiring lawyers and consultants when their applications are refused or when further information is requested by immigration officials.

I believe today’s families deserve more from immigration authorities in terms of greater transparency and better technology.

If unlucky, they will hire an unqualified practitioner that could ruin the family’s entire future. Many of these individuals operate abroad with little oversight by Canadian regulatory bodies.

Once applicants apply, they have a difficult time tracking the process of their applications.

The Electronic Case Application System (eCAS) does not often provide the necessary detail when missing documents and/or information are an issue.

Letters from CIC asking for further information are unnecessarily vague. Call centre agents, who are understandably under significant pressure due to the high volume of calls, are often prevented from providing updates.

For most applicants, who are without professional help, the only solution, Access to Information Requests (ATIPs), are a challenge to navigate.

I believe today’s families deserve more from immigration authorities in terms of greater transparency and better technology.

Often, during the time of application processing, the applicant cannot even visit or reside with their Canadian family member.

Given that processing times can take up to several years, this has the effect of separating families. This is particularly true with permanent resident sponsors, who simultaneously must meet their own Canadian residency obligations.

There is currently a pilot project providing open work permits to eligible spouses and common law partners living in Canada.

To qualify for an open work permit, a foreign national spouse must have be in Canada on a visitor, student, or worker visa prior to making their in-Canada sponsorship and work permit applications.

This program needs to be expanded to include all applicants who are found eligible to be sponsored. A spouse that has overstayed his/her Canadian visa for a legitimate purpose – such as to be with a Canadian partner – should have some options to work legally in Canada.

Canadian families want nothing more than to be here together and start contributing to the struggling economy earlier.

A closing thought 

As you begin your term, Mr. McCallum, please direct your promises at giving Canadian immigrants and their families a greater peace of mind.

Canadian families want nothing more than to be here together and start contributing to the struggling economy earlier.

Yes, we as Canadians, may endure some short-term costs in facilitating this, but these individuals – wives, husbands, partners, children, parents and grandparents – are the foundation of this country and its future. They will pay it back.

Canada is a great country, an attractive country and personally, one that my foreign national fiancée and I hope to call our permanent home. However, it is not our only option and, as my fiancée reminds me on a daily basis, not our easiest option.

Like many other aspiring Canadians, she has an uphill battle to first earn the right, and then find the limited opportunities available, to work or study here. Anything your ministry can do to make our lives easier, and reduce the unnecessary fears engrained by the previous government, would be most welcome.


Will Tao is a Canadian Immigration Lawyer at Larlee Rosenberg, Barristers and Solicitors, in Vancouver, British Columbia. He would like to thank his Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers British Columbia mentee and University of British Columbia law student, Maria Qian, for her helpful edits.

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Commentary

by Will Tao (@TheWillTruth) in Vancouver, British Columbia

In her August 27, 2015 Toronto Sun article titled “Immigration marriage scammers rightfully thrown out of Canada” columnist Michele Mandel expresses her overarching view that foreign spouses involved in marriage fraud are criminals and should be immediately deported.

Using the recent Federal Court’s decision in Li v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) 2015 FC 998 as her smoking gun, Mandel wades through select sections of the Federal Court decision attempting to show the court’s (and by extension, Canada’s) disgust towards immigrants like Li.

Generally speaking, I too, share Mandel, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and Canada Border Services Agency’s (CBSA) concern about marriage fraud.

For individuals who legitimately fall in love with foreign nationals and wish to start a family in Canada, rampant cases of fraud truly serve to ‘ruin it for the rest of us.’

[I]f Canadians truly want to cut down on fraudulent marriages – there are several ways to do it that do not involve publicly ostracizing all foreign national spouses.

At the same time, however, I have some serious concerns over the public reporting and research that is done with respect to marriage fraud cases.

I believe that if Canadians truly want to cut down on fraudulent marriages – there are several ways to do it that do not involve publicly ostracizing all foreign national spouses, that instead get to the systemic roots of the problem.

Going overboard on foreign nationals

It is clear that Mandel is a very persuasive writer and, by virtue of the Sun’s previous reporting on this subject, presumably has a strong understanding of the events that led to the Federal Court decision.

On that note, I would argue that Mandel should have explained that the Federal Court did not rehear the case and only reviewed whether the decision of the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) was reasonable and procedurally fair.

The Federal Court did not say “zaijian” or “refuse to block the deportation,” as stated in the article. The Federal Court does not have that authority.

In fact, Justice Gleeson’s decision, in line with her own judicial philosophy, focused on reviewing the IAD’s process of decision-making. In no way did the Federal Court lay any additional criticism at Li for her role in the fraud.

Mandel’s statements do not serve any argumentative purpose other than to speculate and rile up public distrust of immigrant spouses.

Second, I would argue that the most troubling part of Mandel’s article is her closing remarks, where she writes, “She’s headed home, but how many more are still out there?” She follows that up with an example of a “bogus groom” deported last year who told the IAD that “marriages like this” are so common in the Chinese community “no one is even surprised” by those who participate in them.

Mandel’s statements do not serve any argumentative purpose other than to speculate and rile up public distrust of immigrant spouses; however, they are not surprising.

In an internal CBSA report on marriage fraud, it was reported that the problem was “most prevalent in India” and it was estimated, without any evidence, that as much as 36 per cent of the spousal caseloads involving that country were potentially fraudulent.

Similar statistics have been used in other internal government reports that have attempted to paint birth tourism and live-in caregiver fraud as epidemic crises without adequate evidence backing up these allegations.

Finally, with all due respect, the supposed IAD quote about marriage fraud, which does not show up reported in any written IAD decision, is not useful given neither the case, nor context of its use was provided.

I would argue against the value of using select oral testimony from IAD hearings to purportedly represent the overall views of an entire Chinese Canadian community.

Canadians just as responsible

What Mandel fails to mention is the fate of those who put together the marriage fraud scheme – the Canadians involved. We know for a fact that a Canadian citizen who ultimately gained the financial benefit from the arranged marriage was Li’s bogus sponsor.

Furthermore, we know from the Toronto Sun's past articles that there were several individuals involved in “Project Honeymoon”. If my reading of the situation is correct, most, if not all, of them were Canadian citizens and as such avoided loss of status or deportation and served only short sentences.

Foreign national victims of immigration fraud currently have few safe, independent venues to report their situations anonymously and seek appropriate advice.

In my opinion, the immigration system itself is currently too light on marriage fraud arranged by Canadians. The light penalties under immigration legislation pale in comparison to the seriousness of fraud charges under the Criminal Code of Canada.

At the same time, many of the scheme’s masterminds are able to hide themselves behind the foreign national’s own signature endorsing the information contained in the application. Foreign national victims of immigration fraud currently have few safe, independent venues to report their situations anonymously and seek appropriate advice.

I have also heard from several individuals who truly did not know what was in their own immigration application due to language and communication barriers. Many sought counsel in the first place only because CIC’s own resources were unclear or unavailable.

They often contact ghost consultants or agents that are either posted abroad or operate in Canada with little to no regulation by Canadian immigration authorities or professional regulatory bodies.

Many of the resources they provide to clients are only in third languages. CIC and the regulators are ill equipped to monitor the quality or competency of these service providers.

Finally, to make matters worse, in countries like China it is illegal for Canadian consultants and lawyers to provide Canadian immigration advice without a Chinese immigration licence.

From what I have heard and seen, utilizing domestic Chinese agents is the only way of doing business in China, creating the kickbacks and referral fees that lend themselves to the birth of marriage fraud schemes. These schemes are often so sophisticated that they can be unbeknownst to the Canadian consultant or lawyer signing the application.

Before we ask ourselves ‘how many more fraudulent spouses we need to deport,’ let us first ask ‘how many fraudulent companies we need to report’ here at home and abroad.

We should also ask our foreign partners, especially foreign governments, how much more rapport we should be building abroad to develop new cooperative ways to regulate the illegal practice of immigration.

It is only in this way, not through aggressive media stories lambasting immigrants, that we can tackle the issue of marriage fraud.


Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer and freelance journalist based out of Vancouver, B.C. He is the co-founder and lead-author of the Canadian immigration blog, Vancouverimmigrationblog.com.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

by Will Tao (@TheWillTruth) in Vancouver

The media has recently served as a powerful platform for immigrants seeking to appeal negative decisions, such as deportation orders and permanent residency denials.

This year alone, a star American CFL football player used the media to obtain his Canadian permanent residence, a family was able to keep its deaf child in Canada, and a Nigerian family was able to remain in Canada with their American-born son.

It’s part of a growing trend that has seen immigration issues receive much better coverage in the Canadian media from articles discussing Bill C-24 to stories about immigrant applicants’ trials and tribulations.

Interestingly, the way recent reporting on individual immigrant stories has occurred contrasts greatly with coverage of other legal issues, such as major crime. Rather than prematurely vilify and convict, the media has been quick to defend many immigrants, and to criticize the Canadian government for its poor policymaking.

Ironically, this has injected the presumption of innocence into an immigration system where such a concept did not previously exist. In my view, this has helped to level the playing field for applicants and to bring awareness to the challenges of our immigration system.

However, several recent stories have also highlighted the worrying trend of the mainstream media being overused or improperly used to deliver specific, individualized Canadian immigration results.

Emotion alone should not guide decision-making

It may seem hypocritical for an immigration lawyer and freelance journalist to be writing this piece. Like some journalists, I, too, have taken off my lawyer hat and criticized the government for producing certain immigration results, sometimes prematurely. 

The recent case of the U.K. man who was allegedly excluded from Canada for helping his girlfriend renovate her house is a great example. It was carried by two major British newspapers not necessarily known for balanced perspectives or understanding of Canadian immigration law issues.

I know I commented angrily based on my own experiences with clients with border issues, but admittedly both stories were short on the relevant facts needed to assess whether it was the correct decision by the border officers. 

An immigration system cannot be based solely on who can present the most emotionally compelling case.

I find that an increasing number of stories that I read tread dangerously close to appeals to emotion, where incomplete facts are presented and an ideal outcome is then suggested.

Perhaps even more troubling is the fact immigration officials are responding to these cases, seemingly only as a public relations effort, but not in accordance with their own laws and policies. As a result, I have seen clients in similar situations left scratching their heads, contemplating their own media campaigns.

An immigration system cannot be based solely on who can present the most emotionally compelling case. Successful applicants should be asked to meet a baseline of legally clear requirements.

Some individuals have stories of hardship, but will have no immigration options. There are also Canadian immigration programs that specifically consider applicants’ hardship. This balance is necessary. Anything else would inject too much officer discretion and encourage too much exaggeration from applicants, both of which are deeply harmful to system integrity.

Media coverage also raises an underlying ethical dilemma (we can call this the “Conrad Black example”) – should we be giving preference in our system to high-profile immigrants?

Inaccurate reporting can dramatically impact applicants’ lives

Don’t get me wrong. Some journalists write on immigration issues carefully. The best present the facts of immigrants’ cases diligently, outline their basic legal issues clearly and ensure that both the immigrants’ and the government’s sides of the story are presented properly. They encourage dialogue and protect privacy and anonymity when appropriate.

However, I have also read several stories in the media recently where it was apparent that outside input and assistance was not sought prior to publishing.

It is vital that journalists seek some outside assistance when publishing pieces because their articles, while generally of limited evidential value in courts of law, can be relied upon as documentary evidence in immigration applications and appeals.

I would suggest that the recent case of the American-born child to Nigerian parents is an example of this. I do not want to comment on its substantive merits, given the case is still in progress. However, I found that some of the articles failed to adequately present the law and policy in the area, which although quite harsh in its consequences, is more clear in its application.

It is vital that journalists seek some outside assistance when publishing pieces because their articles, while generally of limited evidential value in courts of law, can be relied upon as documentary evidence in immigration applications and appeals.

The information contained in these reports can also serve as outside evidence considered by immigration officers who verify applicants’ information themselves.

Factual inaccuracies or ill-advised quotes in these articles could affect future immigration. Meanwhile, if too much personal information is revealed in these news stories, some immigrants’ abilities to obtain jobs or travel safely to their home countries may be compromised.

The media’s role moving forward

Rather than acting as a mouthpiece for individual applicants on an ad hoc basis, the media could speak up with a loud and clear voice when a high-level of wrongdoing occurs – either to individuals or groups.

I think the best case for media importance is the Lucia Vargas Jimenez suicide in 2013, which began the present day scrutiny of our immigration detention system and the push to end the practice of transit police reporting immigrants to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) simply for fare violations.

On the contrary, it is interesting to note that in the Jimenez case, CBSA’s internal response was muted due to fear of a media explosion over the issue. From the government perspective, more balanced media coverage may encourage proactive disclosure of negative news.

I believe the media can, and does, play a key role in uncovering and highlighting institutional challenges.

The media can also play an important role in probing key immigration stakeholders. By presenting more stories about the work of immigration settlement services, pro bono legal clinics and others serving immigrants, the media can help fund those resources.

Finally, the media is a key catalyst for access to justice. The fact that individuals have been increasingly willing to go to the media with their stories before engaging legal counsel and resolving issues with government officials highlights the inaccessibility of our immigration system. I believe the media can, and does, play a key role in uncovering and highlighting these institutional challenges.

Overall, the rise of media coverage that informs Canadians of, and holds government officials accountable on, immigration policy is a good thing for our democracy. What the public must do next is ensure the media is used to advance the integrity of the immigration system as a whole, rather than for just a few individuals.


Will Tao is a Canadian immigration lawyer and freelance journalist based out of Vancouver, B.C. He is the co-founder and lead-author of the Canadian immigration blog, Vancouverimmigrationblog.com.

This article was written with assistance from Abigail Cheung. Passionate about immigration since her undergraduate studies in Ethnicity, Race and Migration at Yale University, Cheung will enter her final year at Osgoode Hall Law School this fall.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

by Will Tao (@TheWillTruth) in Vancouver, British Columbia

Early last week, the Government of Canada enacted the remaining amendments to the Citizenship Act resulting from the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (‘C-24’), first introduced in 2014.

While mainstream media did an effective job of disseminating certain C-24 changes – particularly those around the ‘second-class citizen’ provisions (see Storify here) – C-24 needs to be viewed in its totality, as it has practical implications for all Canadian citizenship applicants.

The Good

Physical Presence

The Change: C-24’s new residency obligations require that an applicant is physically present in Canada for four years (1,460 days) out of the six years immediately before the date of a citizenship application.

By clarifying this obligation, C-24 resolved conflicting rulings from the Federal Court of Canada that suggested significant ties and obligations to Canada could replace the physical residence requirement. Given good laws must be consistently applied, this change is surely a positive step. 

Misrepresentation

The Change: Prior to C-24, the only process for punishing misrepresentation in citizenship was through investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Furthermore, there were no requirements for regulation of consultants for citizenship and few penalties to punish those who counselled misrepresentation.

It is also in the benefit of all applicants if issues around misrepresentation and fraud are dealt with at the front-end and prior to ‘bad apple applications’ delaying the applications of the overwhelming majority of honest applicants.

Implementation of this provision strengthens system integrity. It is also in the benefit of all applicants if issues around misrepresentation and fraud are dealt with at the front-end and prior to ‘bad apple applications’ delaying the applications of the overwhelming majority of honest applicants.

The Bad

Residency

The Change: Under C-24, applicants must be physically present for 183 days or more in the four qualifying years. Furthermore, a half-day credit will no longer be awarded for days spent in Canada prior to obtaining permanent residence. Importantly, there is also a new 'intent to reside' provision that requires an applicant to ‘swear’ his or her intention is to reside in Canada.

Several applicants, particularly those who are permanent residents by way of economic immigration, will be challenged to meet these new obligations or demonstrate a definite intention to reside during the period of application processing.

By not providing any exceptions (i.e. working for a Canadian entity outside of Canada) nor rewarding those who have made long-term commitments to Canada prior to obtaining permanent residency, these provisions unduly create a barrier to applying for Canadian citizenship.

Filing Taxes

The Change: Tying into the residency obligation, C-24 also introduces a new requirement to file tax returns in four out of the six qualifying years. There are concurrent legislative changes to implement information sharing of Social Insurance Numbers between the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

It is much harder to correct an error in a citizenship application, particularly where misrepresentation provisions serve as a major deterrent to self-declaring mistakes.

While I appreciate and understand that the CRA has had difficulty collecting appropriate taxes from immigrant taxpayers, I believe these issues are separate from the immigration process. It is rash to try and mix the two legal regimes.

The CRA provides an opportunity for taxpayers to correct their filings in cases of error, with limited consequence. It is much harder to correct an error in a citizenship application, particularly where misrepresentation provisions serve as a major deterrent to self-declaring mistakes.

The Ugly

Decision-Making Power

The Change: Whereas previously, applicants were referred to citizenship judges when disputes arose on issues such as residency or the knowledge test, C-24 provides CIC’s own citizenship officers the ability to make final decisions on citizenship applications, with few exceptions.

Restricting the right of applicants to judicial review or reapplication is highly detrimental to the value of Canadian citizenship. The process of judicial review is not an appeal. Applicants are unable to provide new evidence or clarify evidence submitted in support of a citizenship application.

A proper appeals process, presided by an independent decision-maker, not a citizenship officer employed by CIC, must be created.

Revoking Citizenship 

The Change: The most publicized change that has emerged from C-24 is the ‘second-class citizenship’ provision (see Storify here), which makes it possible to revoke the citizenship of certain individuals convicted of terrorism and other national security offences. C-24 does not specifically use the language of ‘dual citizen’ and rather relies on the use of the word ‘stateless.’ Several individuals who may have access to a second country may possibly fall under the rather loosely worded provision and be subject to citizenship revocation.

I believe this provision undermines the very foundation Charter right of security of a person, which citizenship should provide regardless of whether an individual has access to a second citizenship.

Courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court of Canada, will have a say on this provision vis-à-vis the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Certainly, this change is the most challenging part of C-24 for the federal government. Personally, I believe this provision undermines the very foundation Charter right of security of a person, which citizenship should provide regardless of whether an individual has access to a second citizenship.

The Contradictory: Closing the Pathway to Citizenship in Canada

From a macro-level, the greatest challenge with C-24 is not the provisions themselves, but how the revised Citizenship Act juxtaposes with Canada’s current immigration policy.

We are risking, with C-24, creating a very undesirable, Kantian concept of citizenship. It is not possible to both promote Canada internationally as an accessible, permanent home, and then attempt to foreclose that opportunity once the individual and his/her family obtains permanent residency with strict citizenship laws.

Ultimately an applicant for Canadian citizenship needs to know that if he or she has met the clearly set-out requirements, he or she should be able to obtain the legal right, and yes, also the corresponding privilege and responsibility of being a Canadian.

Canada should not be, and cannot afford to be, a country where becoming a full-bodied citizen requires certain natural prerequisites (for example, not being a dual citizen), or that an individual have some property and be one’s own master (for example, the ability to control residency to the number of days per year).

Ultimately an applicant for Canadian citizenship needs to know that if he or she has met the clearly set-out requirements, he or she should be able to obtain the legal right, and yes, also the corresponding privilege and responsibility of being a Canadian.

If not, especially in today’s globalized world, individuals and families who could have benefited the Canadian social and economic fabric will simply pack their bags and go to the country that can offer them that security of citizenship and permanent peace of mind.

 


Will Tao is an Associate and Canadian Immigration Lawyer at Larlee Rosenberg, Barristers and Solicitors in Vancouver, BC. Tao is involved in both the application processing and litigation sides of Canadian immigration law and focuses on resolving complex immigration matters involving economic and family class applicants. Tao maintains a collaborative blog on immigration called the Vancouver Immigration Blog.

Note that the article represented only the views of the author and does not reflect the view of Larlee Rosenberg. The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon or construed as legal advice. The author recommends that individuals with Canadian immigration law issues seek competent, local counsel prior to submitting their immigration applications.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary
Tuesday, 19 May 2015 23:41

This "Sham Marriage" Sounds Like Mine

by Will Tao (@TheWillTruth) in Vancouver

In my work assisting senior lawyers at my firm with their immigration appeal division and federal court cases, I have found myself increasingly handling cases where Chinese-Canadian and Indo-Canadian sponsors have had their sponsorship applications for spouses living overseas rejected due to the inability to prove the ‘genuineness’ of their marriage. (See Storify here)

‘Genuineness’ is a term used by the Canadian government to measure the validity of a marriage – in other words is it real, or is it a sham?

Last year, my colleague, Steven Meurrens, actually filed an Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) request to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). He wanted access to the training manuals immigration officers used to assess the ‘genuineness’ of marriages, in which a request to sponsor a spouse to Canada was being made.

[W]hen CIC officers assess an application to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner they are guided by Canadian immigration legislation to analyze the applicant’s marriage to the Canadian sponsor to see whether it was conducted in “bad faith.” 

As a result of Meurrens request, a document surfaced that was used at CIC-Vegreville, the CIC office that was responsible for assessing spouse-in-Canada sponsorships up until February 2014. This is the same category currently stuck in a much-maligned 26-month backlog that has devastated several Canadian families.

I find the document he received, titled APR Training Module 9 - Spouse-Common-Law Partner in Canada Handout #5, to be troubling in many ways.

Among the indicators of a ‘non-genuine’ marital relationship listed:

  • Chinese nationals, often university students, marrying non-Chinese.
  • Photos do not include parents or any family members. Usually small groups of friends, 10 people in the photos.
  • The reception is informal and in a restaurant, reception will end after dinner.
  • Sponsor is often uneducated, with a low-paying job or on welfare.
  • In the photos, the couple does not kiss on the lips.
  • Couples usually do not have a honeymoon, not even a couple days away usually because of university and/or no money.
  • There are usually no “diamond” rings.
  • Some submit photos of them dressed in pajamas or cooking, to show they are living together.

An additional concern listed later in the document states:

  • Ethnic background – are they from similar cultures or do their cultures vary greatly?

To provide context, when CIC officers assess an application to sponsor a spouse or common-law partner they are guided by Canadian immigration legislation to analyze the applicant’s marriage to the Canadian sponsor to see whether it was conducted in “bad faith.”

The marriage is analyzed for 'genuineness' and then also to determine whether the primary purpose of the marriage was to obtain a privilege or benefit under immigration legislation. The finding of a marriage to be fake is grounds to deny the application.

Cultural (In)sensitivity?

Without divulging too much personal detail, I am in the process of proposing to my own foreign national girlfriend. We met on academic exchange and were just one of several relationships formed between non-Chinese international students and Chinese foreign national students.

Our favourite date night activity, because neither of us is wealthy, happens to be buying vegetables and cooking creative dinners together.

Also, if my future wife and I are unable to host a traditional marriage in China, and we choose to marry in Canada, it will be small affair with a few of my closest friends and colleagues, likely in a Chinese restaurant.

When I posted the CIC list on my Twitter account, I received an overwhelming response from Canadian couples that reflected on their own marriages and determined that, in the eyes of the CIC list, their own marriages would have been considered a ‘sham’.

As my own parents reminded me not too long ago, their marriage took place in a Chinese restaurant in Shanghai, where there were no rings, no photographer, and I can imagine, no lip kisses. My two sets of grandparents met, shared a nice dinner, and took respective bus rides back home.

For my many friends who, in the beautiful cultural mosaic that is Canada, are in mixed-race, interfaith, common-law or LGBTQ2+ relationships, the CIC list simply does not reflect their cultural ideals of marriage and ‘genuineness’.

Are Indicators Attainable for Most Canadians?

Many Canadians, and particularly new immigrants, have to make economic sacrifices that prevent them from having fancy marriages and long honeymoons.

Many immigrants with unrecognized degrees must start in low-paying jobs in order to make ends meet.

Having large weddings is further complicated by the fact many Canadians are unable to have their extended family and friends living abroad attend their weddings due to obstacles in obtaining Canadian visas. Many of these weddings are understandably small with few guests in attendance.

Many Canadians, myself included, are now second-guessing how to plan their marriage and even worse, second-guessing whether it is worth introducing their loved one to an immigration system that wishes to scrutinize their every kiss and photo.

When I posted the CIC list on my Twitter account, I received an overwhelming response from Canadian couples (mostly older, non-immigrant, Caucasian ones) that reflected on their own marriages and determined that, in the eyes of the CIC list, their own marriages would have been considered a ‘sham’.

I also found several younger individuals, who say they are considering skipping the white dress, diamond ring approach for something simpler or more creative. One of my high school friends even reached out and told me that the ring for her immigrant marriage would be blue sapphire.

Too Far in Scrutinizing Immigrant Marriages?

While marriage fraud is indeed a concern, I believe there are more than enough punitive measures in our immigration legislation to punish those who engage in sham marriages.

For example, there is currently a five-year bar in place for misrepresentation on immigration applications. There are also severe criminal sanctions against those who set up for-profit fake marriages.

This CIC list, on the other hand, punishes all Canadians who wish to sponsor their significant other to come here, placing on them culturally and economically insensitive standards for proving the ‘realness’ of their marriage.

Many Canadians, myself included, are now second-guessing how to plan their marriage and even worse, second-guessing whether it is worth introducing their loved one to an immigration system that wishes to scrutinize their every kiss and photo.

It is my hope that CIC will ultimately come out to say that this list is not being used, and further to publicly state, on record, the full list of indicators that will be considered and the rationale behind them.


A graduate of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Will Tao is an Articling Student at a leading boutique Canadian immigration law firm in Vancouver where he will begin as an Associate in June 2015. He is the product of Chinese immigrant parents and has a significant other overseas whom he hopes to sponsor to Canada in the near future.

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

Zo2 Framework Settings

Select one of sample color schemes

Google Font

Menu Font
Body Font
Heading Font

Body

Background Color
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Top Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Header Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainmenu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Slider Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Mainframe Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Scroller Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Breadcrumb Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Menu Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image

Bottom Wrapper

Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image
Background Color
Modules Title
Text Color
Link Color
Background Image