An Edmonton woman is facing deportation from Canada this month after a college admission letter that secured her entry into the country five years ago turned out to be fake.
Even though Karamjeet Kaur, 25, proved not to know the letter was fraudulent, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada has ruled that she be deported by May 29.
That decision will likely have implications for possibly hundreds of other international students in Canada who reportedly received similar fake admission letters from the same education agent in India — a situation that shows lack of accountability by border and immigration authorities, according to lawyers and activists who spoke with The Canadian Press.
Kaur, whose poor, rural Indian family spent their life savings so she could be the first among them to study and work abroad, now works as a supervisor for a company in Edmonton. She’s married to a Canadian citizen, frequently volunteers, has a work permit valid until November and was on the path to becoming a permanent resident.
Avnish Nanda of Nanda & Company law firm, which has taken on Kaur’s case, said she’s the type of person Canada wants. “She’s contributed so much, and she has the kind of character commitment to this country that we want in young immigrants.”
It wasn’t until 2021, during the last stage of Kaur’s application for permanent residency, that the Canada Border Services Agency informed her the admission letter from Toronto’s Seneca College, which secured her student visa, was fake.
Kaur said that upon her arrival to Canada, the agent in India only told her that her spot at Seneca was no longer available. Kaur eventually went to NorQuest College in Edmonton, where she graduated from a business and administration management program in 2020.
“We thought that the immigration process is very strict, and that they verify everything when they are giving the visa,” Kaur said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “I was really shocked. I’ve already been here five years. Canada is my country now.”
Nanda said immigration officials in both India and Canada believed that Kaur’s college admission letter was legitimate.
The same education agent gave as many as 700 students fraudulent admission letters to Canadian post-secondary schools, according to those trying to help the students who now face removal from Canada. The education agent is now reportedly facing charges in India.
Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) confirmed in an email to The Canadian Press that “there are a number of active Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) investigations into cases of misrepresentation, including those related to study permits.”
The CBSA did not provide further details, citing ongoing investigations, and said it does not comment on specific cases.
The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada said it’s required to hold an admissibility hearing in cases where the CBSA alleges that someone is inadmissible to enter or remain in Canada.
In January 2023, a Federal Court judge dismissed Kaur’s request for a judicial review of the Immigration Board’s deportation order. The judge found Kaur “genuinely believed” she had been accepted to Seneca College, but noted that she never took any action to verify her acceptance and never contacted the university to query why her purported acceptance had been withdrawn.
Kaur’s deportation order established an implied legal precedent for other students awaiting their hearing results, said Nanda. She’s has since applied for permanent residency in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds and through sponsorship.
Kaur and more than a dozen others protested outside Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s constituency office in Toronto on May 3 to demand culpability for their fake letters’ initial acceptance by Canadian immigration officials. An online petition against the deportations of affected students, launched by Migrant Workers Alliance the next day, has since received more than 940 signatures.
“We’re international students. We’re contributing millions of dollars in Canada’s economy… we stepped up (as essential workers) in COVID. We’re the victims of fraud. (Canada) has to do a proper investigation,” Lovepreet Singh, a victim of the same admission letter fraud, said at the protest. “If we have to go back, it would be an outrageous injustice for us.”
Jaswant Mangat is representing about 40 students in various stages of their admissibility hearings before the immigration board and said that his clients’ visa processing was done too hastily, often within a week. “There was no oversight or verification system,” he said.
“If agents know that (Canada’s immigration) system is unable to detect fraud, they’ll continue to commit it,” said Mangat.
In response to claims that incoming students’ permits and visa documents weren’t adequately reviewed, the CBSA said that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is responsible for receiving and reviewing study permit applications. They did not confirm or deny the number of possibly fraudulent acceptance letters flagged in 2018. IRCC did not respond to questions about those claims by publication time.
Nanda said that Mendicino and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser should use the powers of their offices to mandate a process to determine whether all implicated students were unaware of the letter fraud, as Kaur proved in her judicial hearing.
“The government can today address this issue in a way that is compassionate and recognizes our domestic migration targets but also the daily lives of these folks who sacrificed everything to come to this country,” said Nanda.
The Immigration and Refugee Board said it decides each case “on its merits, based on the law and the evidence and arguments presented by the parties.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 20, 2023