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Kuwarjeet Arora: International Students Protest Outside CBSA To Stop Deportations
"The student-led demonstration has grown over the past week, attracting visits from Punjabi singers and Canadian politicians."
Kuwarjeet Singh Arora
June 7, 2023 | 7 min. Read | Original Reporting
Since May 28, 2023, international students from India, mostly Punjabi, have staged a permanent protest outside the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) office in Mississauga, Ontario. They are urging the government not to deport them over fraudulent college acceptance letters provided by their immigration and education agents in India, for which they are innocent victims.
The student-led demonstration has grown over the past week, attracting visits from Punjabi singers and Canadian politicians. Supporters and advocacy organizations have also been attending the site as calls for the Canadian government to stop imminent removal orders increase from multiple groups.
The students were unaware of the scam, advocates state, and the government failed to do its due diligence before providing visas. Punishing students, many of which have been here for years now and built roots in local communities, is unjust, they argue.
“Consultants have made millions in fees,” shares Jatinder Singh, the National Director of Khalsa Aid Canada, an organization that has been providing support to the students. “Let’s be clear, the system was designed to get money to colleges and universities as quickly as possible.”
Most of the deportation cases being protested are linked to a single fraudulent agent and his partners in India. Brijesh Mishra of the firm Education and Migration Services in Jalandhar, Punjab, has been on the run since news broke of the deportation orders and is currently facing criminal charges.
Lovepreet Singh is one of the students caught in the issue. He was originally to attend Lambton College when his education agent in India told him otherwise after reaching Canada.
Lovepreet Singh felt something was wrong when the agent instructed him not to go to the college due to an administrative error in his admissions. In September 2017, the 30-year-old international student arrived at the school's Mississauga campus and attempted to investigate and resolve the alleged enrolment issue independently.
He was shocked to learn that Lambton's administration had no record of his admission or tuition payment. In a few months, he was invited to the college's main campus in Sarnia by officials from the CBSA.
“They told me that your agent didn't pay the fees. You just received a fake offer letter from your agent…you’ve been scammed,” Lovepreet Singh shared with Baaz, unaware that his agent had used a fraudulent acceptance letter to get his study permit to Canada.
He was issued a removal order in 2018 after he was found inadmissible for using the doctored document to enter Canada. Five years later, after he finished a two-year diploma program at a different college in Montreal and started a life in Canada, Lovepreet Singh was ordered to leave the country by June 13, 2023.
Section 40 (1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) defines misrepresentation as "directly or indirectly misrepresenting or withholding material facts relating to a relevant matter that induces or could induce an error in the administration of this Act."
If a favourable decision is reached for these students, political or legal, it would establish a precedent and serve as a point of reference for similar cases in the future, something that may be worrying government officials.
As per protestors, the CBSA shared with students that they are presently carrying out multiple investigations, and those who employ deceitful practices or fraudulent documentation to enter or remain in Canada violate the IRPA. Consequently, they may face potential deportation.
The CBSA did not respond to questions from Baaz at the time of publishing.
Lovepreet Singh’s story, however, is not unique, as many of the students protesting outside the CBSA are also victims of similar fraudulent practices by Indian immigration and education agents and now facing imminent removal.
The students are quick to criticize Canadian colleges as well for their current situation.
Indian agents and consultants host study abroad seminars to lure potential students with dreams of going to the West, a lucrative business pipeline in Punjab and elsewhere. Canadian colleges often send representatives to these seminars to attract Indian international students, a key source of revenue and much more profitable than domestic students.
Potential recruits see Canadian college delegates working with Indian agents, now often referred to as “ghost consultants” by students, and trust the process without questioning the authenticity or intentions of the agents and the documents they provide.
“All international students, including myself, are experiencing injustice with similar patterns in our cases,” says Parkash Singh, a 27-year-old international student also facing deportation.
“We started by entrusting our immigration papers, visa fees, admissions paperwork, and Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GIC) to consultants who manipulated us and exploited our trust for financial gain.”
Students now find themselves in a dire situation, as Jaspreet Singh, founder of the International Sikh Student Association (ISSA) and Board Member of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), shares.
“There was a survey [of international students] done by Khalsa Aid, and [the ISSA] was a part of the survey.”
The survey results, which Baaz has viewed, show that 49 percent of the students have contemplated suicide.
“We know [students facing deportation] are mentally suffering because a lot of their parents have already spent their life savings on them to support them over the last five years.”
Jaspreet Singh shares how students have been duped out of registration and tuition fees by agents, only to newly register with a different college after landing, putting them under even greater financial stress.
“Most of the students, they lost fees for the first two semesters, and then they had to pay fees again to enroll in a new college, so they have paid for almost four semesters just like that.”
This does not take into account the fact that students now have to pay for lawyers to support them through their immigration hearings.
“They have already paid [an estimated] $20,000 to $25,000 in legal fees, and they are still going through this, and they are still suffering a lot.”
Jaspreet Singh feels that Canada is punishing the victims instead of going for the culprits “who are trying to play with the Canadian system.”
The WSO has echoed Jaspreet Singh’s concerns, stating that “steps must be taken to ensure such a situation can never happen again by cracking down on immigration consultants engaging in fraud, however, punishing the victims is not the solution.”
The students have three major demands.
First, that their deportation orders be overturned and that the accused immigration agents, the colleges, and any individuals involved with them in Canada be investigated for defrauding students.
Second, the Canadian government issue temporary work permits while the final decision on the cases is made so that students can continue contributing to the Canadian economy and earn a livelihood.
Finally, students be allowed to move forward in the future by dismissing the argument of fraudulent documents.
Students are quick to point out that if visa officers from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) and the CBSA, trained to detect fraudulent documentation, failed to identify the deceptive nature of the offer letters when allowing students to enter Canada, how could international students have been expected to recognize their true nature?
Opposition politicians, including the NDP and the Conservatives, have begun to urge the Liberal government to suspend deportation orders. These students have arrived in Canada, completed their degrees at different colleges, and gained work experience in the country, they argue.
On June 1, 2023, Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Brad Redekopp urgently requested the Committee on Citizenship and Immigration (CIMM) to temporarily halt deportation orders for impacted international students so further examinations can be done. A request that the international students supported.
However, the Conservative motion on the matter was stopped by Liberal and NDP MPs in a 6-5 Committee vote. Including by NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who had just earlier in the week called for the Liberal government to intervene and prevent the deportation of 150 international students.
“I was shocked to see that they voted against this,” says Conservative Deputy Leader Tim Uppal shared.
“This would have been a good study too, so we, as Canadians can get more information on what happened, and how we could further protect not only the students that are here now but also future students.”
Many are confused about why the Conservative motion failed, including MP Uppal.
“They didn't give any reasons as to why they didn't want to study this. We wanted to help the students. we wanted more information, maybe bring in the Immigration Minister and have him talk about this and tell us what happened and where the Immigration Department went wrong, and why they didn't verify any of the documents.”
The governing Liberals, including Immigration Minister Sean Fraser, have spoken in support of the students, even if they did not vote to temporarily halt deportation orders.
In a statement shared on his official Twitter account, Minister Fraser highlighted that those impacted by fraud would have a chance to present their circumstances and offer evidence to support their case.
“We recognize the immense contributions international students bring to our country & remain committed to supporting victims of fraud as we evaluate each case,” he tweeted.
He said they are also collaborating closely with institutions to verify the authenticity of acceptance letters at the time of application.
But that is not enough, according to opposition leaders.
When Jagmeet Singh met with the protestors, he confirmed that the NDP is making arrangements to present a motion in Parliament to revoke removal orders for individuals and establish a pathway to permanent residency.
On June 6, 2023, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre also spoke out in Parliament to support students, demanding an immediate stop to the deportation of Punjabi international students who fell victim to unscrupulous consultants providing them with fraudulent admission letters.
He questioned why the government would not rectify its own errors, exhibit rationality and compassion, and allow those who had arrived in good faith and contributed to the economy to apply for permanent residency.
Minister Fraser did not respond to questions from Baaz, and other Liberal members were unwilling to comment on the record.
“I don't know what is so hard for the politicians to understand,” Jaspreet Singh shares, frustrated by the lack of action from the government.
“The only concern right now is, we are running out of time. Otherwise, what is the meaning of justice if someone is already deported?”
Kuwarjeet Singh Arora is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Brampton, Ont. He is currently working for The Bramptonist, writing about local Brampton news. Besides covering topics about his community, he also covers issues that affect Canadian society as a whole. You can follow him on Instagram @kuwarx123 or Twitter @kuwarx123x
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