Ties that bind
Sponsors responsible for costs of immigrant family members
Sponsors who renege on their financial responsibility under family-class immigration have been sent a stern message from the Supreme Court of Canada. Even if the relationship breaks down, they must bear the financial burden of family members who fail to gain economic independence.
In a precedent-setting ruling, the judges unanimously agreed that federal and provincial governments have the right to collect from sponsors any improperly collected social assistance, paid to new immigrants. According to immigration law, it’s illegal for sponsored immigrants to get social assistance. Thussponsorsagreetosupport their partners for three years, even if the couple breaks up and the sponsored party ends up on social assistance.
It’s how the government ensures marriages are genuine and not simply for immigration purposes. The ruling reaffirms the sponsors’ legal obligations for repayment, and holds them accountable for the promises they made.
“The risk of a rogue relative properly lies on the sponsor, not the taxpayer,” said the ruling.
Canada’s family reunification program is already ahead of the U.S., where you have to be a citizen before you can sponsor a foreign family member. Canada extends that right to permanent residents, recognizing the social benefit of reuniting families. But not at the cost of taxpayers.
“Parliament has become increasingly concerned about the shift to the public treasury of a significant portion of the cost of supporting sponsored relatives,” wrote Justice Ian Binnie, on behalf of the court.
“Familyreunificationisbased on the essential condition that in exchange for admission to this country the needs of the immigrant will be looked after by the sponsor, not by the public purse. Sponsors undertake these obligations in writing. They understand or ought to understand from the outset that default may have serious financial consequences for them.”
The case was brought forward by eight sponsors in Ontario, who argued, in some cases, the benefits were paid without their knowledge.
Some of the appellants argued the relationship was abusive or that they were abandoned shortly after bringing over their partner. The court rejected their argument, saying that while governments have some discretion in considering the specific hardships of an individual sponsor, the fairness standard was met in each of the eight cases.
In Ontario alone, there were 7,500 fiscally abandoned immigrants on welfare rolls, according to a 2005 Fraser Institute report, which accounted for “about $70 million a year in social assistance.”
No one should be forced to stay in an abusive relationship, or brought to financial ruin over a debt they didn’t know was accumulating. Thankfully, the ruling allows for that discretion, and reminds the government of its obligation to inform sponsors immediately when they are in default.
Canada’s sponsorship program is an important aspect of our immigration system that recognizes the benefits of close family ties and the role that plays in the successful integration of new immigrants. If things go wrong, however, it’s the sponsors who must pay the price. Thus, they should not enter into that contract lightly.