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Marital bliss or mockery?

July 27, 2009

Email

Canadian citizens of Pakistani descent are beginning to wonder whether it's worth it to marry people from back home.

A friend of mine, Najma, recently expressed her displeasure at the Canadian immigration system pertaining to spousal sponsorship. As a Canadian citizen of Pakistani descent, she was faced with two options that would allow her husband to live with her in Canada. He could either obtain a visit visa, which would prevent him from working there, or he could wait up to a year for his immigration to come through.

Processing the paperwork for Najma’s husband to enter the country was an ordeal. The experience, which many newlywed Pakistani Canadians are forced to endure, had Najma wondering whether regulations asking for proof that a marital relationship is genuine cross the line.

When Najma returned to Canada following her marriage, she was pregnant. However, that was not enough to prove that her relationship is genuine. So she had to furnish email correspondence showing the development of her relationship, boarding passes for any trips taken together, card exchanges, letters, joint bank accounts, joint lease agreements, phone bills, money exchanges, tax assessments and even photos from trips stating the location, date and photographer’s name. Of course, unbeknown to Canadian regulators, their ‘tailored to Pakistan’ requirements failed to acknowledge that most Pakistanis use post-paid phone cards while joint lease agreements are unheard of in the country.

Apart from the standard requirements, Pakistanis are also expected to include school leaving certificates as well as photos with, check this, negatives. Unfortunately, the immigration authorities do not provide information recommending a time machine to help applicants procure a camera that employs negatives.

Najma’s lawyer also suggested she pull together additional documentation, which made the couple’s life even harder. Receipts from hotel stays together, Facebook comments of people on photos, Facebook messages between the couple, emails from friends and family with reference to their relationship, the first ultrasound showing Najma was pregnant, details about savings she is setting aside to buy a house, the insurance policy showing her husband as the sole beneficiary upon her death and vice versa – these were all included in the immigration application. Each document also had to be attested, which is a chore in itself, requiring a liberal splattering of bribes to avoid delays.

While getting these documents together, Najma felt that her privacy was being violated. ‘The mere fact that I decided to go through with this process and pay a lawyer just to have a normal life as a family with my husband should be proof enough that my relationship is genuine,’ she says. While her husband was filing his application, Najma went through a miscarriage alone and is now on anti-depressants. ‘I’ve become a workaholic because I work till I get so exhausted that I don't have to lay in bed knowing he's not around.’

With such an exhaustive process, couples who have had arranged marriages find it increasingly difficult to prove their relationship genuine. I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon saw the demise of the inter-continental arranged marriage (who’s to say if that would be a good or bad thing?).

But before Najma’s continuing ordeal makes us lash out against the Canadian authorities for being too stringent, let’s consider the fact that there are innumerable Pakistanis and other non-Canadians who assume Canadian citizenship by exploiting the spousal sponsorship clause.

‘MOC’ or ‘marriage of convenience’ websites have sprung up all over the internet boasting advertisements for sham marriages. Such marriages take place consensually, with sponsors receiving a fee for offering the service. Not surprisingly, the homosexual Pakistani/Muslim community has been abusing this rule so as to pass as heterosexual before their families. Gay men enter into MOCs with lesbians to keep up appearances.

Fuelling the problem is the fact that many people mistakenly believe that MOCs are allowed under Canadian law. To counter this trend, immigration policymakers have decided to make Canadians liable for sponsored spouses for three years after the spouse’s original entry. This clearly discourages Canadian citizens from seeking marriages with foreigners.

But foreigners hell-bent on securing Canadian citizenship have found a way around this too – they simply con Canadian citizens into believing that they love them. In this scenario, the sponsor is deceived and hurt. Even worse, the culprit generally seeks social assistance that the sponsor is obligated to provide for three years.

For example, a Pakistani student at York University admitted that he had no intention of remaining faithful to his spouse, a Canadian citizen currently residing in Islamabad. After tying the knot, the student pays a quarter of the regular international student fees while his wife remains oblivious. In these circumstances, the stance of holding Canadians accountable for situations in which they themselves have been duped is rather perplexing. If the idea is to discourage Canadians from seeking overseas marriages, it belies Canada’s self-declared identity as a nation that celebrates multiculturalism.

Across the border, in the United States, the fiancé class visa enables the sponsor to abuse the rights of his or her spouse. The sponsor can revoke sponsorship at any time within the first two years, effectively enslaving the latter with threats of deportation. While this regulation is draconian, it aims to safeguards Americans by leaving the option of deportation open. In Canada, even if the scam is obvious, the option of deportation cannot be exercised. And so you hear cases of brides and grooms arriving at Pearson International Airport and walking off with their lovers as their lawful spouses watch in horror. But the Canadian citizen has no legal recourse; once a person arrives in Canada as a landed immigrant, as is the case with sponsored spouses, it becomes almost impossible to revoke their status.

With the depressing state of affairs at home, many Pakistanis are desperate to secure a better future. Unfortunately, too many people are choosing to restart their lives elsewhere on fraudulent principles. Immigration policymakers are wringing their hands, trying to find a middle ground between the American and Canadian systems. Meanwhile, Canadian citizens of Pakistani descent (even those who are genuinely in love with someone from back home) are increasingly asking themselves a simple question: is it worth it to marry a Pakistani? Sadly, they may yet conclude that it is not.

talha80x80
Toronto-based Talha Zaheer blogs about diaspora-related issues for Dawn.com. He is also the Toronto FC correspondent for Goal.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.