THE great Canadian dream has turned into a nightmare for many. And the man responsible for this is on the run. Search is on to nab Brijesh Mishra, immigration consultant and partner at Education Migration Services in Jalandhar, who has been named in various FIRs for issuing fake admission letters to students applying for various courses in Canadian colleges. In a one-of-its-kind case, the immigration consultant not only succeeded in befooling hundreds of students, but also visa officials as well as the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). It is, however, the students who are paying a heavy price as a number of them have been issued exclusion orders for misrepresentation.
The Letter of Acceptance Verification Project (LoAVP) was launched in February 2018 by the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to verify the authenticity and validity of Letters of Acceptance (LoA) set by Canadian educational institutions. In cases of suspected non-compliance, the information is added to an individual’s file and may be taken into consideration on any subsequent immigration application.
Of the 24,000 cases of students examined under the project, more than 3,000 were flagged by the CBSA for having submitted fake admission letters to enter the country. Even as the first exclusion orders started being issued nearly two years back, hundreds of students are on the verge of being deported to India. Besides expulsion, adverse findings from LoA verifications can lead to being barred from applying for permanent residency (PR) for five years. While officials of the IRCC and CBSA have expressed inability to confirm the number of students under scrutiny due to privacy legislation, the buzz is the number could be more than the initially reported 700.
The students, mostly from Punjab, are now fighting a lone battle trying to prove their innocence. Chamandeep Singh of Mattewal village near Amritsar had applied for admission to Humber College in Toronto in 2018 through Brijesh Mishra, who got him admission offer letter from the college. It was then smooth sailing, with the visa coming in a matter of days. At the port of entry, too, the CBSA approved his study permit. It was only after he entered the country that he was informed by the agent that the college could not hold his seat and he would have to take admission in some other college. Since his study permit didn’t mention any specific college, he took admission in a Montreal college and completed his course, without suspecting that any fraud had been committed. It was when he applied for PR that his file was flagged for having submitted fake documents on entry to the country.
Inderpreet Singh Aulakh of Chattiwind village near Amritsar, Ramanjit Kaur from Ablu Kotli village near Bathinda, Ranbir Singh of Gurdaspur, Ravi Singh of New Delhi, Rajandeep Kaur of Malerkotla — all these students and many more narrate a similar story. None of them suspected any foul play and didn’t question the immigration consultant when he told them of their colleges expressing unavailability of seats despite having issued them admission letters. They had paid the agent Rs 15-20 lakh each to reach Canada and now they couldn’t let their parents’ hard-earned money go down the drain. None of them reported the matter to the authorities. They simply took admission in other colleges, some of which had been recommended by the agent, while others chose to explore their own options. By the time they came to know of the fraud, it was too late. Most of the students have already been issued exclusion orders while a judicial review of others has been dismissed in the Federal Court. Clinging on to hope, a few of them have applied for their last resort of the temporary resident permit. This will get them permission to stay for a little more time before they are deported from the country for misrepresentation.
“Not even in the wildest of our dreams had we imagined that we would become victims of such a fraud,” say the students, who have been pleading innocence. The authorities, however, point out that all the documents had been filled and signed by the students themselves.
“Misrepresentation is a very serious offence under the Immigration Act and the students have a bleak chance of succeeding. An exception arises where the applicants can show that they honestly and reasonably believed that they were not withholding material information. Here, the immigration agent mischievously got all the documents signed by the students. The onus, thus, lies entirely on the students,” says Jaswant Mangat, a senior immigration lawyer who has been handling cases of close to 40 students at various stages. “So far, there is 100 per cent rejection rate. The government’s position is that if we allow these students to stay here, we will be giving an invitation to the world to come here on fraudulent documents.”
“The students are victims of a fraud. They trusted a wrong person. This, however, is not the fault of students alone. It was a failure of duty at many ends. Had the visa officers looked at the documents carefully when the students had submitted those, this problem would not have arisen in the first place. The same document is submitted at the port of entry, where the CBSA issues study permit to the students. However, once the students have been issued the visa, the CBSA doesn’t much care which college the students have been admitted to and it stamps the study permit with any designated learning institution (DLI). While the student is free to study in any Canadian college, it takes away a major safeguard. This immigration agent took advantage of this and told all affected students not to go to the college that had given the admission offer letter as the seats were full. While the students should have verified the credentials and offer letters directly with the college, it is also the responsibility of the Indian government that such unscrupulous agents are punished and prosecuted,” says Mangat.
The processing of visas has been raising eyebrows as some of the students were issued visas in less than two weeks, a process that usually takes a month, and many relevant documents have to be in place. Questions are also being raised over the nexus between public and private institutions in Canada.
There are 24 government or public colleges in Ontario, of which the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) alone has six public colleges. Besides this, there are hundreds of private career colleges that offer smaller courses, also offered by public colleges. It is an open secret that international students are filling up the coffers of public colleges. Public colleges charge three times the fee from international students compared to the domestic ones. For a course that domestic students are charged $450-$500, international students have to pay $1,500-$2,000. By the end of 2022, there were 8,07,750 international students holding valid study permits, with the maximum number being from India, followed by China. According to data released by the IRCC, with 2,26,450 students, India became the top source of new international students entering Canada in 2022.
A college professor at one of the public colleges in GTA, on condition of anonymity, says, “There is a way bigger issue staring at our faces. Often to boost their enrolments, public colleges issue offer letters much more than the seats they actually have. Most public colleges have an unofficial agreement with private colleges here. It is ultimately a question of which college will actually give admission once the student enters the country. Many international students end up taking admission in these two-room private colleges. Studying in these private colleges, however, doesn’t guarantee them a work permit, which makes sustaining difficult.”
“So far, 100-150 students have got in touch with me,” says Shameel Jasvir, host and news director at REDFM, Toronto, who has been helping international students voice their issues on his radio shows. “While the number of 700 deportations is unverified, with even Immigration Minister Sean Frazer saying that the figures are not correct in one of his interviews, the number of exclusion orders issued could be even more. At least 10 students have been issued deportation notices so far.”
“Most of the students while applying for admission go in for a package deal with the immigration consultant while filing their forms. This includes filling the form, ensuring the offer letter, admission fee, college expenses, opening a GIC account, and, at times, the ticket too. The fraud remained unnoticed until a student, Karamjeet Kaur of Jaito, became the first in 2021 to be issued a deportation notice. Besides the fake offer letters, many students, it seems, had been given fake slips of GIC accounts by the consultant. A GIC or Guaranteed Investment Certificate account is a proof that funds would be released to the student every month for 12 months for their study and maintenance abroad. Once the students reached Canada, the consultant told them that there was an issue with the GIC accounts and they were not to go to the bank. But even then the students didn’t doubt his credibility since at no stage was their offer letter questioned, neither when they were being granted the visa, nor at their port of entry to the country by the CBSA. Very few students are coming out in the open for the fear of stigma back home,” says Shameel.
“It is a bigger syndicate operating because such a large number of students cannot go to study on fictitious admission letters,” says Rajya Sabha MP Vikramjit Singh Sahney, who recently met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in this regard. “We are adopting a two-pronged strategy to help the students stuck in this crisis. While at the government-to-goverment level, the Indian government is in talks with its counterparts, we are pursuing students to file class section case — an aggregate case on behalf of all affected students. We are taking support of local MPs also,” adds Sahney.
Even as efforts are being made to help the students, the strict immigration laws offer little hope. In all this, one thing is for sure that unless the Central and state governments take stringent action against the likes of Brijesh Mishra, immigration frauds will continue to be a reality.
“This chain of frauds needs to stop. It is painful to see the students going through such traumatic experiences. Public should be made aware. It is their money and their children who suffer,” concludes Mangat.
Reach out to Indian High Commission
I am not sure of how many such cases are there in total. Some of the students have approached us, our High Commission, and we have taken up the matter with the Canadian authorities. We are also taking action against unscrupulous agents that may be involved in this. Let me emphasise that we have always supported legal mobility. Most countries have a mechanism under which the students facing any issues are required to reach out to local authorities, but we would also urge that they should contact the Indian High Commission or the Indian Consulate if they’re in trouble or need assistance. Arindam Bagchi, Official Spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs
Take care when applying for admission abroad
- Apply to colleges directly on their official websites and fill the forms yourself. All rules and visa charges are mentioned clearly.
- Make sure your documents are correct and verified and there is no discrepancy.
- In case you are taking help from an immigration consultant or travel agent, be cautious. Verify the credentials of the person before you give him/her any money.
- Do not blindly trust the agents. Get copies of all documents and verify these yourself on your computer, or even smartphone.
- Confirm your seat on email with the college that has issued you the offer letter.
- If you feel that you have been a victim of fraud, report the matter to the local immigration dept. Approach the Indian High Commission or Indian Consulate abroad for help. You could also check your options with an immigration lawyer.
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