I often get queries from potential applicants about the legality of proxy and telephone marriages with regard to sponsorship. A common example is one where a couple has been dating or living together, but due to immigration circumstances, can no longer see each other.
This can occur when one foreign individual lives in the USA (for purposes of illustration), and the other in Canada. The individual living in the USA can not enter Canada because he or she can no longer secure a visitor visa and needs one, as he or she is not an American citizen. The individual living in Canada can not enter the USA for the same reasons.
Although both individuals may be permanent residents in the USA and Canada, they can not enter either country in order to get married in person.
What can be done?
In these circumstances – where it is nearly impossible to marry in person – one option is a telephone or a proxy marriage. It’s important at this point to distinguish between the two processes, as they are often confused.
A telephone marriage is one where each individual is on the phone at the same time, and they are married by a local official during a conference call.
A proxy marriage is one where either individual is not able to make the telephone call, and uses a third person (a “proxy”) to stand in during the marriage ceremony. It is still done over the telephone, however, one (or maybe both) individuals can not speak on the phone themselves – they use another person for that purpose.
Are such marriages acceptable for immigration purposes?
A telephone or proxy marriage may be acceptable for sponsorship depending on the circumstances.
Such a marriage must be legal in the jurisdiction in which it was performed. If it is legal in that jurisdiction, then it is legal for Canadian immigration purposes. The only caveat is that other aspects of the marriage (aside from the telephone or proxy par) must be legal as well. For example, one can not marry a close relative, or marry more than one person, no matter where the marriage takes place.
So let’s continue with our example above, where one individual is in Canada, and the other in the USA. If a person tried to get married in Canada (with the other calling in from the USA), it would not be legal, as such marriages are not recognized if performed in Canada.
However, if the individual called into the USA (say Colorado, as telephone marriages are legal in that state), and the telephone marriage was performed in Colorado, such a marriage would be legal for immigration purposes, as Colorado recognizes telephone marriages.
Some people believe that if a marriage is performed at a foreign mission (or consulate) in Canada, that the marriage will be legal if the foreign mission represents a country where such marriages are legal. However, that is not the case. A proxy marriage performed at a foreign mission in Canada is not legal in Canada, as no province recognizes such a marriage.
What should we do before attempting such a marriage?
There are pitfalls to telephone and proxy marriages that are subsequently used for an immigration sponsorship application. Aside from the legalities, there are other practical issues to consider. For example, for a compelling case to be made for sponsorship, there better be a very good reason that a telephone or proxy marriage was used instead of a face-to-face wedding. Otherwise, CIC will certainly question the wisdom of getting married in such a fashion.
Moreover, all the other aspects of sponsorship come into play, such as the length of courtship, travels together, meeting each other’s family, financial support and so forth.
It is always helpful to consult an immigration lawyer before marrying via telephone or proxy and then attempting a sponsorship application.
As always, this post does not contain legal advice, and does not (and can not) cover all the aspects of such marriages nor the varying fact patterns specific to each case. Seeking advice for your particular case is always a wise move.