The implementation of travel restrictions and lock-down measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably led people around the world to put their 2020 plans on hold. This is particularly difficult for Canadians in relationships with people abroad who may have been planning to get married and sponsor their foreign partner.
What’s stopping them? According to Canadian immigration regulations, both partners must be “physically present” at the time of the marriage ceremony in order for the marriage to be legally recognized—a reality that simply isn’t possible for those now required to navigate their relationships virtually.
Why can’t I get married via Zoom?
In July, actor Sean Penn married his girlfriend Leila George via Zoom. This followed executive orders in the states of California and New York allowing marriage ceremonies to take place via videoconferencing. While some states have accordingly changed the requirements for marriage in response to COVID-19, no Canadian province or territory has followed suit.
Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) has further said that marriages via videoconferencing will not be recognized for immigration purposes.
This is made clear by two provisions in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations:
· Regulation 2 defines marriage, in respect to a marriage that took place outside of Canada as, “a marriage that is valid both under the laws of the jurisdiction where it took place and under Canadian law.” Given that all provinces and territories require both partners to be physically present in order to obtain a marriage license, marriages via videoconferencing are not recognized—even if they are recognized in other jurisdictions.
· More explicitly, Regulation 5(c) notes that a foreign national shall not be considered the spouse of a person, “if at the time of the marriage ceremony was conducted either one or both of the spouses was not physically present.” The only exception to this is if a partner is not physically present at their marriage ceremony as the result of their service in the Canadian Forces.
Additionally, the IRCC prohibits proxy marriages where one or both partners are not physically present and represented by another person. This prohibition was made due to their possible connection to early and/or forced marriages.
What alternatives exist for sponsorship?
With the continuation of travel restrictions due to COVID-19, Humanitarian and Compassionate Applications or Conjugal Partner Sponsorships (for those in relationships lasting at least one year) may provide alternative means for those who were planning to be married and start the spousal sponsorship process. Contact us for more information about these options.
The question, however, needs to be asked as to whether the IRCC should point people towards these alternate pathways or amend its regulations—removing the “physically present” requirement in a COVID-19 world.