Legally married couples caught in immigration crackdown

Posted by admin on Jul 16th, 2008

By The Canadian Press. Mon. Jul 14 – 4:31 AM

OTTAWA — Greg Hamon chuckles to himself as he recalls how he began his courtship with his wife, Sonia, by writing letters to her in El Salvador. “She didn’t have a computer and we had friends to help us translate,” he says. Their correspondence began in January 2003 after Sonia spotted Hamon in a photograph taken by her childhood friend, who was a co-worker of Hamon’s. After more than two years of translated letters and phone calls the couple decided to marry in March 2005. “We had to use dictionaries at first, but that didn’t matter . . . whatever it takes to communicate,” says Hamon. More than 10 years in age separates the couple, but age didn’t matter — they were in love. It mattered, however, to the Canadian government. The marriage was not deemed “genuine” by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and Sonia was unable to join her husband in his hometown of Regina.

Hamon believes it was because of the age gap.

“As soon as they saw the age difference, right there it was end of story.”

More than 45,000 new immigrants enter the country each year as spouses of Canadian citizens.

But an increased focus on marriages of convenience has sparked a government crackdown on bogus nuptials.

In May, it was reported the Conservative government was deploying five-person teams abroad — nicknamed the “fraud squad” — to investigate how fake couples were scamming the immigration system.

Most recently, the immigration department circulated a letter to the Canadian Bar Association asking for input on changes to rules on overseas marriages. The association will issue its response this week, but sources say it’s not expected to be favourable.

The changes are “basic,” according to the government, but immigration lawyers worry they will exclude even more genuine couples like the Hamons.

“As a lawyer I see lots of refusals that are ill-founded,” says the couple’s former counsel, immigration lawyer David Matas.

“The problem isn’t acceptances of invalid marriages, it’s the refusals of valid ones.”

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act currently states that a spouse can be denied entry to Canada if the union “is not genuine and was entered into primarily for the purpose of acquiring any status or privilege under the act.”

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