Fix One Issue, Create Another: The Elimination of “Conditional” PR Status

I recently met with a young Norwegian professional who wanted to know how to become a Canadian citizen. After I explained some of paths from temporary status (which he had, as a visitor) to permanent resident status to citizenship, he was visibly frustrated and said, “this is too complicated. I just want the form to become Canadian.” I had to admit that he’s right: the system is complicated. (And wouldn’t it be nice to have such a form?) Our former government made things more complicated by adding even more levels to our robust hierarchy of statuses. The most significant additions were the creation of “conditional permanent resident status” in 2012 (for Applicants in a spousal sponsorship application) and, with the changes to our Citizenship Act, “second class” Canadian citizens in 2014. Those changes are now being reversed by the current government. There still isn’t any plan for a form for my new Norwegian friend but we seem to now be on a path to simplify the system.

Within the immigration bar, there were advocates for and against the creation of the “conditional” PR status before the 2012 amendments. We had all had clients like Cindy Green who came to us after their application has been approved and their spouse had ditched them after getting status. We met them, heartbroken, and they asked us to have their spouse removed. There was not a lot we could do. Most did not carry a door on their backs to Parliament but kudos to Ms. Green for shining light on the issue. I wish I could say these cases are rare but they are not. The creation of the conditional status (for 2 years) was a sincere attempt to resolve these issues but, unwittingly, created new issues. TStar reporter, good ol’ Nick Keung (what would we do without him?), wrote a nice piece outlining some of the issues:

The proposed amendments are part of a Liberal election campaign commitment and come on the heels of a new study that found women, racial minorities and those from Muslim-majority countries are disproportionally slapped with so-called “conditional permanent resident visas,” prompting concerns that they are forced to stay in abusive relationships to avoid losing their status.

To be fair, the legislation included protections for spouses in abusive relationships. That was a key concern from the start. But there is a big difference in drafting legislation that attempts to mitigate negative consequences and then the realities of misinformation and the precarious situation of the new immigrants. Unfortunately, many of the individuals negatively affected are unsophisticated and they rely on friends and family to explain the law. “You better put up with me for me for at least 2 years or I will have you deported.” This report documented the real dangers faced by new immigrants with “conditional” status. In the end, the victims of domestic violence (generally women) found themselves in situations of compounded fear that they would be deported if they sought help.

Our current government announced that it will reverse the changes and eliminate “conditional” status. Personally, I agree that the reversal will help to protect many victims of abuse. (I also appreciate the effort to simplify the system and shrink the hierarchy of statuses but I’ll leave this point for another post.) The question becomes: what are the Liberals going to do to help the Permanent Residents and Canadian citizens, sponsors like Cindy Green, who find themselves, heart in hand, abandoned at the airport?

I initially planned to also address the proposed changes to citizenship law and amendments to the TFWP (cover all the groups of statuses) but that is going to have to wait for another week. The Slaw-bot has reminded me that my copy is due.

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