Canada asked to speed up review of international students defrauded by recruiters

By Srushti Gangdev and Hana Mae Nassar

Advocates are demanding quicker action to protect international students in Canada left in limbo by fake post-secondary acceptance letters.

The calls come days after the federal government announced measures that it says will protect such international students from fraud. However, advocates say quicker action is needed, with dozens of people still waiting to learn their status in this country.

It was revealed earlier this year that many of the students who had gotten fake letters had been defrauded by immigration consultants. In some of these cases, these “consultants” charged the prospective students tens of thousands of dollars to guarantee their entry to Canada.

On Friday, the federal government said it had reviewed the case of just over 100 individuals — 63 of them were determined to be genuine students and allowed to stay.

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change organizer Sarom Rho tells CityNews the federal government has seized the passports of many of the students being reviewed. She says this is a common occurrence which leaves people in an even greater state of stress than before.

“Often, at times, this is the only piece of identification that many migrants have, and many are waiting to finish their hearing and can’t have their cases heard by the taskforce yet. So they’re in this state of limbo, they’re unable to protect themselves,” Rho said.

In other cases, Rho says students’ visas have expired, meaning they can’t access an immigration hearing, leaving them undocumented in the process.

This, in turn, affects their ability to work but also leaves them fearful to speak up without punishment.

“We welcome the first step measures that the immigration minister announced, but the devil is in the details, right? And overall, there is so much more that needs to be done for support for the students who have already become undocumented and, in fact, were not able to have their cases reviewed by the taskforce,” she explained.

“So, 21 months ago, Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau promised a regularization program to grant permanent resident status to undocumented people, which includes some of the students who were tricked by education recruiters and lost status, but also half a million other undocumented people in this country.”

Rho adds “every day of delay” further adds to exploitation of these individuals.

Review of cases ongoing, IRCC says

In a statement to CityNews, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) says work is ongoing.

“Our focus will continue to be on helping well-intentioned students and graduates who wish to remain in Canada, while also ensuring that those who took advantage of genuine students face consequences for their actions,” the statement reads.

The IRCC says there were initially “285 cases of interest.” Of the 103 cases reviewed, it notes 40 were “found not to be genuine students.”

“The taskforce has undertaken an individualized, case-by-case review of the circumstances of each student (linked to specific investigations identified by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) who may have been duped by unscrupulous actors, and are facing deportation orders or have been removed as a result of a fraudulent letter of acceptance),” the IRCC explained in an email.

“As cases continue to be actively investigated or undergo admissibility hearings at the Immigration and Refugee Board, the taskforce will continue to receive and review cases as they fall under its mandate. It will continue to assess every individual case with the same expediency, flexibility and compassion.”

The ministry says students who hold valid permits can continue to work and study, “as per their authorized status,” until their admissibility is determined.

It adds people who are “not found to be involved in fraud” won’t face removal from Canada, noting those who are determined to be “genuine” students can get a temporary resident permit.

The IRCC deferred questions about passports being seized to the CBSA.

NDP Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship critic wants faster action

NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who is the critic for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and who represents the riding of Vancouver East, says she’s heard of dozens of students who are still waiting to for their cases to be reviewed.

“Through the work of the task force, officials confirmed 285 students were impacted by scammers. To date, less than half of the cases have been reviewed leaving many students in limbo. This is unacceptable and the Liberals must act to fix this,” she said on Oct. 27.

While she applauded the federal action, Kwan says this situation likely could have been avoided.

“At long last, the government is finally doing what they should have been doing all along – work collaboratively with Designated Learning Institutions to verify the authenticity of acceptance letters for international students. If the Liberals acted sooner, it would have prevented the fraud scam by bad actors impacting hundreds of students from India earlier this year,” she added.

The additional checks and measures announced last week by the federal government to prevent study permit fraud includes the establishment of a list of recognized institutions Ottawa says will set a higher standard for services, support, and outcomes for students.

“Starting December 1, 2023, post-secondary designated learning institutions (DLI) will be required to confirm every applicant’s letter of acceptance directly with IRCC. This new, enhanced verification process aims to protect prospective students from letter‑of‑acceptance fraud and to help them avoid similar problems that some students faced earlier this year as a result of fraud investigations. It will also ensure that study permits are issued based only on genuine letters of acceptance,” the IRCC said in its email.

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