Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Immigration Sponsorship Breakdown

Sponsoring a Relative to Come to Canada

It is common knowledge that people from all over the world immigrate to Canada. Many come to Canada as part of the “family class” of immigrants through a process called sponsorship. What is perhaps less well understood are the strings that are attached to sponsoring a relative to come to Canada.

First of all, what does ‘sponsoring a relative’ mean?

Canadian immigration law allows Canadian citizens and permanent residents living in Canada, who are 18 years or older to sponsor close relatives or family members to become permanent residents of Canada. So, the Canadian citizen or permanent resident applies to sponsor the relative as a member of the “family class”. If all the criteria are met, (the sponsor qualifies and the sponsored person’s application for permanent residence is successful) the application will be approved and the relative is issued a permanent resident visa.

There are financial and legal responsibilities that go along with sponsorship.

Sponsors must sign a document called an undertaking. In the undertaking, the sponsor promises the Canadian government that they will support the sponsored person (and any accompanying family members such as dependent children) for a
period of three to 10 years. This is to ensure that the newcomers will not have to apply for social assistance in Canada. The sponsor must also sign a sponsorship agreement with the person(s) being sponsored which confirms the sponsor’s commitment and, in turn, outlines the commitment of the sponsored person(s) to make every effort to be self-supporting. In many cases, the sponsor and the newcomer are able to meet these financial and legal obligations. However, in some cases, the sponsorship breaks down. Sponsorship breakdown occurs when the sponsor cannot or will not provide for all of the sponsored persons basic needs (such as food, housing and medical care), the sponsored person is not able to financially support themselves and/or their dependents, and the sponsored person applies for and receives welfare benefits.

Here’s an example of a typical call to the LawLINE:

I pick up the next call, and a woman named Jasvinder tells me that she’s really worried because she and her husband Ranjit recently split up and she is scared and not sure what to do next. She tells me that she and Ranjit married about 1.5 year ago in India, and shortly afterwards he sponsored her to come to BC. The sponsorship application went through, she got her permanent resident visa and then she came to BC about 10 months ago. She has been living with Ranjit’s family since she got here.

She tells me she was excited about coming to BC but there has been a lot to adjust to: a new country, culture, marriage, and extended family. This is her first time away from her family and friends and she has never been to Canada before.

She tells me that when she first arrived, things were fine, she and her new husband seemed to be getting along well and her mother-in-law seemed to be accepting her.

She had hoped to get a teaching job with her teaching degree from India but soon found out this wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought. Instead, she got a part time job at a convenience store, for the moment, and was starting to settle in to her new family and country.

But after being in Canada for about 8 months, Jasvinder tells me that Ranjit’s attitude towards her has changed a lot. A few weeks after starting her job, Ranjit told her that she had to give him all the money from her part time job. When she refused to give him all the money, he told her she wasn’t allowed to work anymore. Under pressure from Ranjit and his family she quit her part time job about a month ago.

After the blowout about the job, Ranjit told her that she should focus on looking after the household chores and should not leave the house without his permission. He told her that if she cannot live with these rules he will send her back to India. Jasvinder starts to cry - she did not expect this change.

Ranjit had seemed like a caring and kind man when she met him at home in India, and she had been excited about starting a new life with he and his family in Canada. Her family had also thought he would be a good match. But, she explains that she is very unhappy living under his rules and he has even threatened her with his fist a couple of times.

She tells me that she wants to leave Ranjit, but at the same time she badly wants to stay in Canada. Doing both seems impossible though - since she has no way to support herself right now. Can she apply for welfare? She knows that Ranjit signed some immigration papers saying she wasn’t allowed to get welfare. She tells me that she doesn’t want welfare but she doesn’t see any other choice right now. If she tries to get welfare,can Ranjit get her deported back to India?

You’re right that Ranjit would have signed some important papers, I tell her. As part of the sponsorship process, a sponsor must sign a document called an undertaking where they promise to support the relative or family member (and any accompanying family members - i.e. dependent children) for a period of three to 10 years, depending on the family member’s age and relationship to the sponsor.

Jasvinder said she thinks that ‘he signed for her’ for 3 years - and that means there is just over 2 years left.

I explain that the undertaking and sponsorship agreement are binding contracts for the period of time that they apply- since you are the sponsor’s spouse- 3 years from the date you became a permanent resident. However, there are a few things that are important for her to know:

1. If she decides to leave her husband/sponsor she is still a permanent resident of Canada;

2. If she decides to leave Ranjit and cannot pay for basic things like groceries and rent, she can apply for welfare at her local office of the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance. She will not lose their permanent resident status by applying for welfare. I suggest that before applying she contact a local immigrant services organization, ( For example: Mosaic: www.mosaicbc.com) and ask to speak to an advocate who she can explain her situation to and get help with her welfare application; and

3. If she receives welfare there will be consequences for Ranjit, because of the undertaking. As your sponsor, Ranjit will be responsible to pay back the money she receives from the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance. So down the road he may get stuck with a fairly big bill from the BC government. Also, a sponsor cannot sponsor anyone else to come to Canada as long as they owe money to the government for defaulting on the undertaking.

I suggest that she talk to an advocate at Mosaic as a first step, and for more information she should go to a Legal aid website called LawLINK:

http://www.lawlink.bc.ca/links/immigration_and_refugee.asp.

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