Regulatory Bodies Still Plagued by Cases of Fraud, Scams Affecting Would-Be Immigrants
Scams and immigration fraud continue to plague Canada’s immigration system, despite the best efforts of lawyers, consultants, and immigration staff. As a result, experts and advocates are speaking up to raise awareness, and to get federal and provincial governments to take a harder stance against these issues.
Would-be immigrants to Canada are often targeted by people looking to make a quick buck. Due to a lack of understanding of Canada’s immigration and refugee systems (which can be remarkably strict and bureaucratic), many immigrants turn to agents, consultants, and lawyers to help them navigate the process.
Sadly, regulatory bodies meant to protect these vulnerable people by intervening in unethical behaviour often lack teeth and resources. In some cases, they simply lack the authority necessary to investigate and prosecute these cases.
Fraudulent Immigration Agents
A recent case in Winnipeg saw an immigration agent skip town after collecting thousands of dollars from a group of Chinese immigrants, who now have no real recourse.
Jiatoo Immigration Consulting Inc., run by Zhihao Jia, shut down its offices, apparently overnight, providing no notice to landlords or clients. According to licensed immigration consultant Yu Xiang, currently assisting some of Jia’s victims, some of the cases Jia was working on may not be legitimate, as Jia was not licensed to provide immigration advice or services.
In short, not only did this immigration agent abscond with client money, he was not able to actually help these clients in the first place.
Now under investigation by the Winnipeg police, Jia acted as an immigration agent for Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) immigration consultant Yu Wang.
Jia’s role was to find potential clients for Wang—standard practice for a registered immigration agent. However, the ICCRC forbids registered agents from providing any advice for immigration, and by accepting money from or preparing applications on behalf of these clients, Jia skirted these rules.
Wang, meanwhile, hasn’t seen a dime of the money taken by Jia, nor was he aware of a client list.
Unfortunately, cases like this occur with frustrating regularity.
The ICCRC’s Hands are Tied
According to the CBSA, nearly 200 cases of suspected immigration-consultant offences come to their attention each year. Cases similar to the one in Winnipeg are unfortunately common, according to Xiang.
Sadly, the ICCRC cannot legally prosecute or investigate allegations of fraud.
They’re limited to disciplining a consultant if an agent of theirs acts unethically; on the first offence, the council member receives a written warning. The second offence results in a $100 fine.
There simply isn’t much the Council can do to stop these cases from occurring, and that’s a problem.
Scams and Fraud at Home and Abroad
In a recent piece by the Vancouver Sun, immigration consultant Laleh Sahba recounted coming across “migration agents” in Ankara, Turkey, offering her access to an immigration professional who could get her a visitor or student visa for $25,000 or more.
These "agents" approached Sahba close to the Canadian embassy in Ankara. For her, it was a reminder of how easy it is for people to target vulnerable migrants.
“This is a huge business. And what disturbs me is that many are in it for the money in Canada. They’re playing with people’s lives,” said Sahba, who feels that more can be done to clean up and regulate the growing industry of immigration consultancy in Canada.
Speaking to the Vancouver Sun, Marina Sedai, chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section, highlighted how the Association had told Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussein that regulation systems for immigration consultants are not working.
According to the Canadian Bar Association, regulated ICCRC members have received 1,470 complaints since 2011.
While Sahba believes most regulated consultants do excellent work and that the ICCRC is doing a good job in monitoring this work, she still feels that there’s an awful lot of misrepresentation about the apparent simplicity of immigrating to Canada.
In some cases, would-be immigrants are told by unscrupulous consultants to apply for a study visa. This would then let spouses come to the country on a spousal work visa. Problems arise when these people—who don’t actually want to be students—fail language exams and can’t get into post-graduate school.
According to Sabha, these people—who get deported or return home—have “wasted their time and huge amounts of money. And their kids have in the meantime become used to Canadian society. This is where my heart bleeds.”
Loss of Trust in Canadian Immigration
Beyond the loss of money, there’s also a significant loss of trust in Canada’s immigration systems. When these cases occur, would-be immigrants frequently must start their application process all over again.
In worst-case scenarios, though, scams and fraudulent activities result in missed deadlines—which can mean deportation.
There is clearly significant room for improvement in regulating these consultants. At the same time, though, unethical consultants still appear to be a minority.
But for something as important and life-affecting as immigration, one scam is one too many.
Immigration is a significant driver of Canadian society. Protecting immigrants during a very vulnerable point in their lives should be of the utmost importance.