Giving a new hope to hundreds of immigrant students, largely from Punjab, who have been facing deportation from Canada, the country's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Sean Fraser has announced that authorities have been actively pursuing a solution for international students who are facing uncertainty after being admitted with fraudulent college admission letters.
"Those who have taken advantage of people genuinely hoping to study here will face consequences for their actions," Fraser said in a tweet on Wednesday.
The Canadian minister was categorically clear in saying that the innocent victims (students) will be given every opportunity to have their case considered fairly. "Due to the complexity of the situation, we remain committed to working with CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) to determine a fair outcome."
In another tweet, Fraser congratulated the individuals who have officially become proud Canadians on Wednesday. "Your diverse backgrounds and stories enrich our nation, and we're thrilled to welcome you to the Canadian family."
Several lawmakers like Indo-Canadian Iqwinder S. Gaheer and Jenny Kwan are standing behind nearly 700 students to get justice for them as they were unknowingly defrauded by immigrant consultants who used inauthentic college admission letters for their student visa applications.
The CBSA has issued deportation notices to over 700 students whose admission offer letters to educational institutions were found to be fake.
They filed visa applications 2018 onwards till 2022 through Jalandhar-based Education Migration Services headed by one Brijesh Mishra, who is on the run and has shut all his operations operating from Jalandhar.
He's also accused of cheating students of tens of thousands of dollars.
The students had gone to Canada on a study visa but the fraud came to light after they applied for permanent residency (PR) recently.
One of the aggrieved elderly parents, Joginder Singh (name changed) from Jagraon told IANS the agent offered admission to Sheridan College without their consent by preparing a fake acceptance letter from the college. They had paid 14,000 CAD to cover two semesters of tuition.
He said when his daughter reached Canada, Mishra told her not to go to Sheridan until further notice. After two-three week, she got admitted to some other college (the name withheld).
"Since we have spent a major chunk of the hard-earned income on the tuition fees, we preferred to keep mum. During the study and later on three years of work permit, our daughter worked in Canada as per work rules and part of Canada's success story. Now after five years when she's entitled for PR (permanent residency), the local authorities have been saying your entry to the country is on fake documents. We have not cheated the Canadian authorities? We are victims of fraud," an emotional Singh said.
"If those documents were fake they should have told them back in 2018. Why now?" he added.
Immigrant Lovepreet Singh is scheduled to be deported on June 13 in the fake offer letter case.
"My parents have spent their whole life savings to sponsor my education in Canada so that I could have a better future here. Now the dream is shattered. I'm so ashamed," he has been quoted as saying.
Since last week, crowds of international students fearing deportation have been camping in front of the CBSA's office in Mississauga with placards saying, "We are victims, not culprits" and "Why do we need a fake offer letterS?".
Standing behind the immigrants facing deportation, Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Jenny Kwan, on Wednesday moved two motions at the immigration committee in support of the international students subjected to exploitation scheme.
She questioned how this situation was allowed to happen and why fraudulent documents were not detected until years later when the students began to apply for permanent status.
Favouring a pathway on humanitarian grounds, she said, "The significant harm experienced by students, including financial loss and distress, and measures necessary to help the students to have their deportation stayed, inadmissibility on the basis of misrepresentation waived and provide a pathway to permanent status."
She asked the immigration committee to examine how to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future.
On Twitter last week, immigration minister Fraser said the government recognizes the "immense contributions international students bring to our country" and is committed to supporting victims of fraud.
"To be clear: Our focus is on identifying culprits, not penalizing victims. Victims of fraud will have an opportunity to demonstrate their situation & present evidence to support their case," Fraser wrote.
Back to Punjab, Bathinda MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal this week urged External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar to save the future of hundreds of Punjabi students who were facing deportation by taking up their case with the Canadian authorities.
Kaur, in a missive to the Union minister, said the emphasis should be on taking action against dubious institutions as well as authorised agents who had played with the future of the students.
"Unsuspecting students, who are victims to this scam should be treated sympathetically as they have fulfilled all needed criteria for securing permanent residency after up-skilling themselves and should be granted the same without any hindrance."
Echoing similar sentiments, AAP Member of Parliament Vikramjit Singh Sahney has demanded a thorough investigation into the case of issuance of fake college acceptance letters and admission fee receipts by unscrupulous agents, granting of valid visas and immigration clearance.
"They went to Canada on fake admission letters, got visas and immigration clearance, studied in Canada and are now doing jobs...they cannot be deported as they are innocent and are victims of a bigger conspiracy," Sahney wrote to immigration Minister Fraser.
He also appealed that it is very difficult for individual students to fight their cases in Canadian courts, a few of them got success recently. The Canadian government must take a sympathetic collective view of all students suffering under these unfavourable circumstances.
State's NRI Affairs Minister Kuldeep Singh has written to the External Affairs Minister to resolve the matter of students trapped in immigration fraud and demanded they should be given work permits considering their visas.