Bogus Students, Shady Schools: The Visa Scam

Chad Skelton, Vancouver Sun, July 31, 2007

There are so many people in B.C. scamming Canada’s foreign student-visa program—from bogus students to shady schools—that authorities can only investigate about five per cent of the cases, according to an internal government report obtained by The Vancouver Sun.

“It is impossible to actively pursue all the cases . . . with the current resourcing levels assigned to the project,” warned an August 2006 report prepared by the Pacific Region of the Canada Border Services Agency. “With the passage of time, many of these cases have gone cold.”

The number of foreign students admitted to B.C. on student visas has nearly doubled over the past decade, from just 22,000 in 1995 to 43,000 in 2005.

The CBSA report, obtained by The Sun through the Access to Information Act, states the vast majority of students are genuine.

But the agency has also identified “several hundred cases of alleged fraud” in B.C. in recent years—people with no intention of studying who simply use the visa as a way into the country.

If the CBSA can prove that someone is in the country illegally, it can then seek to have that person deported.

But the report notes that the number of fraud cases is so high, that “it is realistically expected that approximately five per cent . . . can be effectively pursued.”

As of last August, according to the report, the CBSA had just three enforcement officers and one intelligence analyst assigned to work through a backlog of more than 550 student-fraud cases in B.C.

In an interview Monday, CBSA spokeswoman Paula Shore refused to say how many investigators the agency currently has assigned to student fraud in B.C. or whether the number has gone up since the report was written.

However, she did say that student-visa cases are generally given lower priority than those involving national security or criminal activity.

One of the problems in combatting student-visa fraud, according to the CBSA report, is that while immigration officers have the power to place conditions on foreign students to attend school, they often don’t.

“The effect of this is that there is no requirement that a student actually attend school despite the fact that the individual is in Canada to study,” the report states. “If no requirement to attend classes is imposed, students who have not gone to school for [extended] periods of time but who still hold valid study permits cannot be reported . . . for non-compliance.”

Shore refused to comment on the matter, saying Citizenship and Immigration Canada, not the CBSA, handles visa applications.

However, CIC spokeswoman Shakila Bezeau also refused to answer questions about its policies, saying she “can’t comment on a CBSA report.”

While most B.C. schools are innocent victims of fraud—admitting foreign students who simply never show up for class—the CBSA report states others are “visa mills . . . whose sole purpose is to facilitate the issuance of study permits”.

Some fake schools exist only on paper, without even the pretense of educating students.

But the report notes others keep up appearances with modest classroom facilities—making it difficult for CBSA investigators to prove the school is fake.

The report notes the CBSA has identified “several schools” in B.C. suspected of being involved in immigration fraud that have since been put out of business.

The names of those schools were deleted in the copy of the report provided to The Sun.

The B.C. government has been criticized for not doing enough to ensure the quality of the more than 500 private post-secondary schools in the province.

B.C. schools that want to offer government loans are required to be accredited by the Private Career Training Institutions Agency. The accreditation includes a detailed review of the school’s curriculum and teaching staff.

However, since foreign students can’t get student loans, schools that cater to them often don’t bother with accreditation.

Such schools still have to be registered with PCTIA, but that involves only a single site visit to the school and no detailed review of its programs.

“We don’t have the ability to go once a month or once a week to each school. There’s just too many,” said Cindy Bubb, a spokeswoman with PCTIA.

Bubb said PCTIA’s enforcement is mainly driven by complaints from students who aren’t satisfied with their schools.

However, Bubb agreed that fake students who want nothing more than a way into the country are unlikely to complain.

Enforcement is even lighter for private English as a Second Language (ESL) schools, which were deregulated by the B.C. Liberal government in 2004 and are not even required to register.

In June, the B.C. government introduced several measures it said would help weed out bad schools, such as publishing the names of suspended private schools on PCTIA’s website.

It also hired former BCIT president John Watson to review PCTIA’s mandate, including whether ESL schools should be regulated once again.

“I think we’re always looking at ways to make the system better,” said Advanced Education Minister Murray Coell. “That’s what we did in June and that’s what we’ll be doing with John Watson’s report in the fall.”

The CBSA report notes that a lot of the student-visa fraud in B.C. is made possible by unscrupulous immigration consultants who put students in touch with fake schools for a fee.

Such consultants also provide students with forged academic records to make it easier for them to get a visa.

The report warns that fake students who come to Canada may end up staying for good since they can use their visa as a stepping stone to immigration status.

Indeed, the report states the CBSA has identified at least 18 “students” linked to one suspicious consultant who have either applied for permanent-resident status or already have it.

MAJOR AREAS OF CONCERN TO CANADIAN AUTHORITIES WERE BROKEN DOWN INTO FIVE CATEGORIES IN A RESTRICTED INTERNAL REPORT FROM THE CANADA BORDER SERVICES AGENCY

1. BOGUS STUDENTS

Visa holders who lied about their intention to study and never went to school upon arriving, or who dropped out but stayed in Canada anyway.

2. FAKE SCHOOLS

Standard visa mills are ‘schools’ that exist solely for the purpose of issuing papers, making no pretence about being legitimate places of education. The ‘sophisticated’ version has facilities and might appear on the surface to be a school.

3. SCHOOLS GONE BAD

Smaller private colleges ‘have been the target of fraud in attempts to extend a student’s stay in Canada and/or to apply for admission to other schools.’

4. COOKED-UP DOCUMENTS

‘Countless’ bogus papers have been discovered, including faked academic records, counterfeit student cards and forgery tools. Providing the documents is described as a lucrative business.

5. CORRUPT CONSULTANTS

Much of the visa fraud wouldn’t be possible without consultants who sell transcripts to allow student stays to be extended in exchange for ‘large sums of money.’ They are also implicated in more serious criminal activity.

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