BY WILLIAM MACINTOSH
THE Asian Journal reported Richard Kurland’s disclosure of government investigations into immigration fraud in India – an ongoing concern of the Harper government – on Tuesday on its website (www.AsianJournal.ca). As I noted on November 8 in this newspaper, the Harper government has increased immigration enforcement spending from $91-million in 2010-11, to $150-million in 2012-13. At the same time, the government has created more selective rules for immigration. The correlation is no coincidence.
Increased enforcement spending coincides with former Immigration Minister Jason Kenney touting the government’s initiatives in fighting immigration and citizenship fraud. In July 2011, he announced measures by the government to combat citizenship fraud. In 2012, he announced measures to address marriage fraud, and to increase cooperation with the United Kingdom, Australia and India to combat fraud in visitor and immigration applications.
More details of the immigration department’s efforts to combat fraud in India were recently disclosed by Carol McKinney, the Immigration Program Manager at the visa office in Chandigarh, when she testified before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration on November 26. The Chandigarh office processes temporary resident applications from northern Indian states, primarily from Punjab and Haryana.
Appearing by videoconference from India, Ms. McKinney told the assembled MPs on the committee, that in 2012 the visa office refused 329 applications for misrepresentation discovered through verifications. She added that an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of all refused applications contain misrepresentation of some kind. She noted a lengthy list of fraudulent documents used by various applicants. Prospective students included documents such as fraudulent letters of acceptance, language test certificates, academic records, reference letters and identify documents.
Fraudulent temporary workers often provide phony ESDC labour market opinions and letters for their employment. Visitor visa applicants regularly submit falsified Indian bank statements or falsified documentation from Canada, such as invitations from non-existent Canadians or fraudulent funeral home letters for funerals that are not taking place.
IN the past eight years the Chandigarh office has tripled the number of temporary visas issued, to about 18,000 in 2012, with an acceptance rate of 53 per cent, up from 38 per cent in 2004. It handles the workload with six Canadian officers, supported by 19 locally hired staff.
The Chandigarh office added an anti-fraud officer in September 2012, allowing it to increase its ability to verify information from employers and schools in person. This allows the anti-fraud officer in New Delhi to increase investigations in other parts of India. Ms. McKinney also noted that Chandigarh’s new anti-fraud officer has assisted local law enforcement officials, who, particularly in Punjab, have targeting unregistered and unlicensed consultants.
Partnering with other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, the U.K., and the United States, information provided to the Punjab Police led to a raid in May 2013 on six Jalandhar-based consultants, resulting in the arrest of their owners and seizure of money, passports, visa applications and suspected false documents.
When asked why the acceptance rate was lower than the 80-per-cent worldwide approval rate, Ms. McKinney said the reason was due to more fraudulent applications and the belief that many applications will not depart Canada following an authorized stay. She also noted that the acceptance rate has increased through the use of visa application centres (VAC). These privately run outsource centres help with the administration of temporary visa applications by ensuring applications are complete. There are nine VACs in India, with two in Punjab.
OTHER witnesses before the committee noted the increased demand for visitors from emerging economic markets such as India, China and Brazil. This has put added pressure on government resources to deal with those areas. Funding has increased in the past year for visa offices in those countries.
In spite of economic growth in India, Ms. McKinney stated that there is a strong incentive for residents of the Punjab to seek better economic opportunities abroad, particularly among the young unemployed or underemployed. Since many of them do not meet Canada’s visa requirements, officials from Canada and from key partner countries are very concerned about the growing evidence of fraud and misrepresentation.
The Times of India on July 28 pointed out that new data based on consumption expenditure surveys shows that income disparity in India is growing and at a rapid clip, despite the changes to India’s economy in the past two decades. People will continue to migrate whenever there is lack of opportunity.
At the same time Canada’s immigration policy has become more focused on economic considerations, making more people unqualified to immigrate. Immigration fraud will continue to be a problem, not just from India, so long as economic disparity continues and the barriers to entry get harder.
William Macintosh is an immigration and citizenship lawyer who began practising in 1984. You can reach him for advice at 778-714-8787.