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Canadian Immigration Scams: Age-old lure of a better life still hasn’t run its course

Dr Neelam Batra-Verma

Canadian Immigration Scams: Amarjeet Singh’s Canadian dream came crashing down when one wintry morning in early 2023, he received a letter from the Canada Border Service Agency telling him that his letter for admission, on the basis of which he had applied for a Canadian visa and eventually Permanent Resident status, was nothing but fraudulent.  

It was just five years ago; he had arrived in Canada to join a reputable Ontario college to complete a post-graduation program in computer science. He also had been issued a work permit and has since been working part-time too. “It was a shock for me to learn about the fact that the documents given to me by my consultant Brijesh Mishra in Jalandhar, who had charged Rs 15 lakh from me and my family was a fraud. Now I am in a dilemma – I can neither stay in Canada nor can I go back. My father sold off his land so he could send me here. I had just started to send some money home and now this.” Amarjeet (not his real name) could not control his tears from flowing.

The embarrassment of getting deported

Amarjeet is among hundreds of students from India who have been caught in a web of deceit, chicanery and fraud. When he arrived at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Mishra called him to say that classes were full and he will have to take admitted to another college, after which Mishra stopped answering his call. He eventually gained admission to another private college. He obtained his work permit and thought finally, his life has come on track and that he will be able to send money to his parents in India. “If I get deported, it is not only embarrassing for me and my family but also will be difficult for me to obtain a job back in India after the mark of deportation is stamped on my back.”

“Indian-only” colleges

Some students highlight the fact that the colleges these Indian students were given admission to, cater to only international students. Said Karandeep, who refused to identify his last name or the college he was in, “When I first came in 2019, it did strike me that how come there are only Indian students in the college. There were no local students or students from other countries since Canada is a multicultural country. Other students too talked about it but we could not do anything. We had paid our tuition fees, had paid for housing, and tickets to Canada and also raised our families’ hopes. How could we break their hearts if we had alluded to being cheated? Once in Canada, there is no return for many of us as we have nothing to fall back upon when we get home.”

Quality education, living in Canada

Canada is a hub for international students not only from India but also from other countries. Last year as many as 807,750 international students made a beeline to study in Canada, according to a report by the Canadian Bureau of International Education. Of these, 40 per cent of these students came from India mainly from Punjab. The plight of these nowhere students should be a warning for those who are planning to go overseas to study and verify the authenticity of their documents and the consultants they rely upon. Because once money is paid, hopes are raised; goals seem achievable but if not careful dreams can crash. 

Asian News Makers talked to Ken Hardie, a Liberal Party Member of Parliament in British Columbia who is trying to help the students who may be issued deportation orders on the basis of forged admission letters. Brijesh Mishra, a Jalandhar-based immigration consultant had charged these 100-odd students thousands of dollars on the pretext of getting them admission to a college in Canada. It was on the basis of those forged letters, the students were issued study visas and eventually work permits. In an interview, Ken said that the onus of checking the authenticity of their documents lies with the students and the Indian government too needs to step up efforts to take the unscrupulous immigration consultants to task to save the victim’s families from further loss of their precious resources.

Ken Hardie, Liberal Party MP, Canada
Photo: Twitter @KenHardie

Q: How did you get involved with the students?

A: I am aware of the issue and got involved in it as someone put my name on a Facebook group that the students pulled together on we chat and Facebook. I have been working with the minister and other people who are dealing with issues around immigration and visas. They are now aware of the situation and the dynamics behind it. One thing we are watching now is any removal orders. So, students are being asked to come to hearings if they have been swept up in the fraud and if a removal order is issued on them, then I will get the minister’s office involved obviously, if they have got the removal order, we ensure that is not processed.

Q: How many students according to your information have been scammed?

A: The media reported that there are up to 700 of them but we have only identified well less than a hundred and most of them have been dealt with by this one immigration consultant in India. I believe that a business partner has been arrested but he himself has now moved to Australia I believe.

I am also in the process of drafting legislation, which will soon be presented in the House of Commons which will focus on rules to see if we can preempt this kind of problem in the future.

Q: Is this a Canadian problem to be dealt with by Canadian authorities?

A: The problem starts in India and unfortunately, Indian people are defrauding other Indian citizens and when everything goes crazy, then we are left to clean up the mess on this side of the border. And once it goes crazy, it becomes very very difficult to clean up.  I have always stressed that the Indian government has to step up and do something about this issue.

Not to say that there are things that Canada cannot do. These are discussions we are having with the minister and others involved and these will go into the legislation, which I am proposing right now in the House of Commons. We are in the process of writing it right now. The Parliamentary process is once it is tabled, it can be published.

Q: What kind of loopholes in Canadian laws that such unscrupulous consultants have been using to scam the students?

A: I don’t think so much of a loophole. It is more to ensure that the application process makes it abundantly clear as to what has to happen; how people have to disclose information; what happens if they don’t disclose the information. But there are things we can do to neutralize what the fraud artists create. That means that the Indian government may have difficulties in dealing with this issue, as this is a problem with various levels of intensity. Some are as outrageous as we have seen here. There are others where corners are cut, where the information disclosed is not truthful. So we have to separate out the people including students who are gaming our system versus those who are legitimately defrauded of no fault of their own and end up in a situation where these students are right now.

Q: The visas given to students at Canadian embassies are based on the admission letters provided to them by the consultants. Isn’t there a way where the visa officers can verify the authenticity of those letters?

A: That is one aspect of the issue that we have to consider. There are other things to preempt the problem before it arises. It is entirely possible for a student who is applying to come to Canada to check the validity of the admission letter before they get on the plane and come. Once they come to Canada, the damage is done. Therefore there are various aspects to this problem, which we have to deal with. But the main idea is to protect families in India and the integrity of our immigration system.

Q: What can the Canadian government do to close these fly-by-night colleges whose main aim is to merely fleece these international students? 

A: Yes, this is a different issue that needs to be looked into. But for now, we have to look into this one consultant who was fraudulently offering admission letters to these colleges with great integrity. He was just using their names to offer admissions and again we have to really be very aware and keep our eyes wide open.  In some cases, student and their families willingly become participants in the fraud. They want to get their family member to Canada where they then proceed not to study but get a job and proceed to get a permanent status in Canada. That is not how it is supposed to work.

I do have a problem with these fly-by-night colleges. They have just one room with 20 chairs and they show that they are running these colleges.

We have to reach the provincial realm as the provinces have jurisdiction over education. The provinces have to ensure that the colleges that are existing are giving out unaccredited certificates or not. Is the college meet all the provincial rules? If the students are getting a real education. 

For now, is it only admission letters from this one consultant have come to light.

By far all of the cases that have been brought up are from Punjab and this one consultant. As much as we Canadians like to complain about things not working properly and not meeting expectations, the world would love to have the problems we have and there are many many people who would like to be here. We see a lot of that and it breaks your heart sometimes when we have to tell these people that they have to apply for refugee status to get a work permit etc. The thing that bothers me most is that their own community victimizes them. Even in Canada, the community is taking advantage of these students because of the college they are going to. Some are offered work above and beyond what they are legally allowed to work, being paid under the table and sometimes not even being paid.

Q: What options do these scammed students now have?

A: As for options/alternatives, some may try to apply for status on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, although not many of these are successful unless the person faces grave risks if they are deported.

The students caught up in this fraud might be able to demonstrate that they have been victims if they undertook and completed similar or equivalent studies at another educational institution.  Those who didn’t actually attend school and who opted to work instead will have a more difficult case to make.

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