Sunday, June 8, 2008


The following story was published by the Times of India:

Now, rent-a-wedding route to Canada

8 Jun 2008, 0214 hrs IST,Neelam Raaj,TNN

NEW DELHI: Kabootar-baazi has been the time-tested way of getting to Canada. Now, some hopefuls have discovered a cheaper and less risky option.

Not Malta or Turkey, this route goes via the altar. A phoney wedding to a Canadian has become the easiest way of acquiring a resident visa.

In this rent-a-wedding route to immigration, the finery, garlands, guests and even the spouse are all conveniently arranged by an unscrupulous consultant who is hand-in-glove with a local temple.

What tipped off Canadian visa officials in Delhi were photographs of different weddings submitted as evidence for sponsoring overseas brides and grooms to Canada all with the same guests.

Further investigation led them to the conclusion that marriage-for-convenience syndicates were at work. "At a price, you can get packaged services with a wedding ceremony where people stand in as guests and relatives, posing for photos as in a real marriage," says Canadian immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained an internal government report through an access-to-information request.

What makes the rent-a-wedding option so attractive is that under the current immigration system, an Indian can go to Canada within six months of marrying a Canadian.

What’s more, unlike countries like Australia where it is mandatory for a newly arrived spouse to spend at least two years with his or her partner to be eligible for permanent residency, Canada grants this status on arrival.

This has led to the phenomenon of sham marriages. "Cases have come to light in which Canadian nationals have agreed
to sponsor Indian spouses for monetary gain around 10,000-12,000 Canadian dollars. The couple then lives apart and
get divorced within one year," says Ramesh Maharaj, vice-president of a group called Canadians Against Immigration Fraud.

A risk analyst for a Toronto bank, Maharaj says he is a victim of another kind of sham marriage in which a foreigner ties the knot and then jilts the Canadian spouse. Recently, a woman from the South Asian community was on her way to Toronto’s Pearson airport to meet her Indian groom when she got a call on her cellphone. "Don’t bother waiting for me," he told her. "I’ve just landed in Vancouver and I’m staying here."

In an email response, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) said it was concerned about marriages of convenience and had been investigating such cases. Visa officials were also being trained in better interview techniques so that they could determine whether a couple genuinely wants a life together.

"Marriages of convenience have become a huge problem in Canada and in as many as 80% of the cases, Indians are involved," says Maharaj, whose wife left him soon after he sponsored her entry into Canada from India. What's worse for jilted Canadian nationals is that in order to sponsor their immigrant spouses, they have to agree to financially support them for three years.

If the newcomer draws on social assistance even if they have run out on their spouse the Canadian sponsor is still on the hook to pay that money back to the government.

"Unwitting Canadian sponsors invest not only their hearts but thousands of dollars in paperwork, long-distance phone calls and airfare," points out Maharaj, who fought a long battle to get his wife to Canada not knowing she would abandon him.

But it isn't just Indians who do the jilting, the wed-and-fled route has been taken by some Canadians as well. There have been many instances of Indo-Canadians travelling to Punjab to marry for dowry and then leaving their brides behind.