‘Shocking’: How phoney Sikh temples are taking advantage of religious immigrants

Sigh. The ingenuity of fraudsters…:

Judging from its online presence, the Sikh temple that purportedly sits on the edge of this Niagara-region border town is a lovely spot.

“They serve food all time with good flavoured chutney and the taste is superb,” says an August 2019 review on the Fort Erie Khalsa Darbar’s Facebook page . “The place of god to relax and calm your mind. “

The social media page and the temple’s website reinforce the pleasant image with photos of devotees and succulent-looking food.

What actually exists at its address in Fort Erie is something else: A long-abandoned motel surrounded by scrub land overgrown with weeds, and fronted by a no-trespassing sign.

The land is zoned rural. “A place of worship,” says Janine Tessmer, a spokeswoman for the town, “would be considered a zoning infraction.”

There is no temple, in other words. Yet Fort Erie Khalsa Darbar, incorporated as a federal non-profit in April, 2019, and granted religious charity status this February, has sponsored at least three priests to come here from India on special visas issued by Ottawa.

Directors of the Fort Erie temple — called a gurdwara in Punjabi — say they fully intend to open it one day and thought it would be running by the time their priests arrived.

Representatives of the country’s many functioning gurdwaras say they know little about the new facility, and couldn’t comment on its operation. But they warn that temples by name only, operating “under false pretenses” are a major problem, charging priests, real or not, tens of thousands of dollars each for sponsorships that can lead to visas and a cherished foothold in Canada.

They also say federal governments have long ignored their warnings about the unique, religiously inflected form of immigration fraud.

“The sharp rise in cases coming forward in the public regarding potential immigrants paying tens of thousands of dollars to these societies in order to secure work permits is shocking and undermining the immigration process and laws,” the heads of the Ontario Gurdwaras Committee and B.C. Gurdwaras Council said in a letter this July to Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.

“Potential immigrants to Canada are often fleeing poverty, state sponsored violence, genocide and oppression and to be further marginalized by this type of illegal and fraudulent behavior … is unacceptable,” they said.

In lower mainland British Columbia, a priest from India says he had to pay $29,000 to have gurdwara leaders sponsor him for a work permit to preach in what turned out to be a phoney temple. He says he and his young family are now destitute.

Directors of the Fort Erie gurdwara deny that money changed hands with the priests they sponsored, and that incomplete renovations on that vacant building in Fort Erie meant the men could not work there.

Bachittar Saini, the temple president, said he is covering all the project’s expenses from his own pocket as a gift to the area’s small Sikh population — non-existent in 2011, according to the most recent federal household survey that canvassed religious beliefs.

“When you are serving the community, you don’t have to be only serving the Sikh community,” Saini said. “It could be anyone, black, brown, white, whatever. We don’t ask ‘Are you Sikh, are you Christian, are you Muslim?’”

Meanwhile, there’s evidence that at least one of the three priests may now be working as a truck driver, and allegations he tried to obtain a visa fraudulently four years ago. Saini says the preachers have all disappeared, and that he reported them missing to immigration authorities.

Matieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, said Friday the government would not comment on any ongoing investigations, but takes allegations of fraud seriously and “constantly monitors” to ensure the safety of people using the system and safeguard the system itself.

“We encourage anyone who suspects immigration fraud to contact the Canada Border Services Agency’s Border Watch,” he said.

Genest said the program for bringing religious workers to gurdwaras is important to the Sikh community, and is regularly reviewed to ensure its integrity. Officials work closely with the community “to identify and eliminate opportunities for abuse.”

Two of the Fort Erie gurdwara directors have links to Navdeep Bains, a Liberal MP and minister of innovation, science and industry. President Bachittar Saini and the minister’s father, Balwinder, were advisors to the same slate of candidates in a board election last year at a large gurdwara in Mississauga. Fort Erie director Bahadur Bains is uncle to Balkar Bains, Liberal riding association president in Bains’ Mississauga-Malton constituency.

But John Power, a spokesman for the minister, said he had nothing to do with the Fort Erie project and no one on his staff helped in any way to obtain visas for the priests.

Gurdwaras are the places of worship for Canada’s 700,000 Sikhs, but also serve as community hubs, offering food to people in need and hosting weddings and funerals at halls that are often part of the temple complex.

To meet the demand for such services, many temples sponsor jathas — groups of three priests — to come from India for stays of about six months in Canada.

They are admitted under various types of work permits, a Canadian consulate in India co-ordinating with gurdwaras to ensure no one over-stays their visa, said Béatrice Fénelon, an Immigration Refugees and Citizenship spokeswoman.

In total, 519 work permits or permit extensions were issued to religious workers from India between 2018 and July this year, while 70 were granted permanent resident status, she said.

The gurdwara associations say in their letter that a system developed in 2012 to deter abuse had some early success. But now, they say, there are “hundreds if not thousands” of non-profit Sikh religious societies that are using their paper credentials to make money off of would-be immigrants.

They call for a crackdown to ensure perpetrators do not “continue to financially gain from this illegal activity.”

“There are so many gurdwaras registered but they are not existing any place. They are fraud,” said Amarjit Singh Mann of the Ontario Gurdwaras Committee. “They rent a place in the plaza or somewhere else, and they say this is a gurdwara … but there is nothing.”

Saini, the Fort Erie temple president, is a realtor and also director of a numbered company — 2323266 Ontario Inc. — that bought the property in 2019 for $310,000, according to land registry records. All the gurdwara’s board members are based in Brampton, 150 kilometres away.

Fort Erie is a curious location for a Sikh religious facility. The 2016 census found just 10 residents whose mother tongue is Punjabi — which could also include Hindus and Muslims — while Statistics Canada’s 2011 national household survey revealed zero adherents of the Sikh religion. The town’s population has increased little since then.

Director Bahadur Bains suggested otherwise, estimating that there are “300 or 400” Sikhs in the town of 30,000. The gurdwara would also be of benefit, he added, to Sikhs in Belleville, though that city is 340 kilometres away in eastern Ontario.

The temple’s online presence gives no hint that it exists in the record books only. The administrator of its Facebook page began posting messages there in April 2019, and continued until as recently as the middle of September.

Then there are the reviews. That one posted in August 2019, in praise of the temple’s food and meditative ambience, was posted by Buy Sell on Time, a company run by president Saini.

At the property itself, site of the former Tatler Motel , someone was working inside the building without a permit in 2019, prompting the town to issue an order to comply in September, then a stop-work order in November, said Tessmer.

The structure looks thoroughly abandoned now. But the sponsored priests still received their visas last year.

Saini said the stop-work order prevented the building being ready to accommodate them and a potential congregation. He said he now plans to tear down the motel and build anew, but said work was halted because of the pandemic. In fact, Ontario allowed construction to proceed throughout the COVID-19 lockdown.

Meanwhile, no one has applied to change the zoning to make opening a temple there legitimate, said Tessmer.

Where the sponsored priests are now is also murky.

Unable to take up work in Fort Erie, they found jobs at a gurdwara in Brampton called Jot Parkash, then vanished, said Saini. But Jot Parkash spokesman Satbir Singh said he’s never heard of them, or the Fort Erie facility.

Meanwhile, a Windsor, Ont., businessman, Amarjit Grewal, initially confirmed to the National Post that one of the preachers was working for him as a truck driver. Then, in a subsequent interview, he denied that was true, saying the man, whom the National Post could not reach and is not naming, was at a temple in Mississauga.

In 2016, a priest of the same name and two jatha members forged letters from Canada’s largest gurdwara — Ontario Khalsa Darbar (OKD) — in a bid to win visas, the temple alleged in a letter to immigration officials at the time. Their warning seems to have been for naught, as the same preachers managed to get visas later after convincing a different temple to sponsor them, said a follow-up letter to Immigration.

“It would be greatly appreciated if you can address this matter promptly and help us eradicate fraudulent behavior,” the OKD gurdwara wrote in April 2017.

It’s “mind-boggling” that despite the warnings the same priests are now back in Canada, granted visas after being sponsored by a temple that does not physically exist, said Jaspal Bal, an advisor to Ontario Khalsa Darbar.

When he found out they had returned, Bal said, “I thought ‘man oh man, what is going on’”?

Source: ‘Shocking’: How phoney Sikh temples are taking advantage of religious immigrants

Immigration fraud in Canada, foreign workers should be cautious

Yet another instance:

When the video call ended, Rami Al-Americani felt confident he would get the job.

The four people who had interviewed him for a position at a Montreal-based construction company had asked him detailed questions, but Al-Americani owned and operated an engineering consulting firm in Lebanon. He knew he could do the work.

The address for Montreal Construction Group corresponds to a non-existent lot that would be in the middle of René-Lévesque Blvd., near Place Ville Marie. Workers in the area say they have never heard of the company. It isn’t real.A Montreal Gazette investigation has confirmed that the firm is part of a network of ghost companies concealing an elaborate immigration scam. Those who orchestrate the network use the prospect of living and working in Montreal, and in Canada, as a lure to target educated workers in the Middle East, gaining their trust with a lengthy application period before requesting money to pay for the immigration process.

The scam is convincing. The network operates under the guise of three interlinked companies: a recruitment agency, a construction firm and an immigration consultant firm. Multiple people act out different roles, from human resource representatives to hiring managers. The jobs they offer and the companies they purport to run are not real. They have websites that mimic those of real firms and use the stolen identities of real immigration consultants to assure victims of their legitimacy.

Those who fall victim to the scam have little recourse. The network exists largely in a jurisdictional vacuum online. Even when regulators do catch on, the network just shuts down and restarts under a new name.

“It’s a big network,” Al-Americani said. “It’s amazing that they took the time to do a fake website and some of them act as the recruitment, the other ones act as the company people, operations, HR. Another part acts as the immigration consultants.”

A chance for a job in Canada

For Al-Americani, it began in October 2019, when a woman who said her name was Mellissa Luke called him. She worked for a company called Nova Recruiters, based in Ottawa, she said, and wondered if he was interested in an opportunity to work in Canada. She sent along forms and arranged an interview with Montreal Construction Group.

The application process was thorough, Al-Americani recalled. He did several interviews, including one video call with four people.

“The people who interviewed me are people who understand construction,” he said. “I was interviewed by a so-called senior guy in operations and people who understand the terminology that we used in construction, who understand projects, so they prepared for it and they seemed professional.”

Between the initial phone call and the time Al-Americani was hired, a few weeks had passed. He filled out human-resources forms and Montreal Construction Group transferred him to Canada Immigration Hub, their approved immigration consultant, ostensibly based in Alberta. A man reached out. He said his name was Craig Jackson and that he was a certified immigration consultant. He sent along forms and asked for payment.

It worked. Al-Americani was hopeful about the move to Canada. He had researched the country and was tempted by the prospect of a good education for his children. The process was going to be expensive — Al-Americani knew that. He paid.

The money, $1,000 as an initial fee, was wired to a U.S. bank, which bothered Al-Americani. When he caught on to the scam, he seethed at the thought that someone could go to such lengths to prey on his family’s hopes of moving to Canada.

Others who have fallen — or nearly fallen — for the scam report noticing red flags, but sometimes ignoring them, blinded by the prospect of a new life abroad.

Eslam Emara, a Saudi man with 10 years of experience in transportation and logistics, caught on to the fraudsters. He was skeptical at every turn. He asked for proof of identity, scrutinized the companies’ websites, asked around on online forums and noticed holes in the Montreal Construction Group facade.

When the man calling himself Jackson asked for money, Emara said no. “That’s the time I had to say to them, ‘That’s bulls—. I’m not buying.’ ”

But it hurt him. A little part of him had been holding out hope, despite the red flags.

“It seems ridiculous, because I knew that it’s a fraud, but I was just dreaming on,” he said in a recent interview from Riyadh, uttering a laugh, then a sigh. He had hoped to immigrate to Canada with his wife and child. “It was one of our dreams to do something like this, so they gave us much disappointment.”

A convincing online network

The fake companies’ websites present a facade that at first is convincing to those targeted by the scammers.

But the slick sites don’t stand up to scrutiny. The Nova Recruiters site lists jobs that don’t exist. The Montreal Construction Group site is an exact imitation of a site belonging to a New Zealand company. It lists projects ostensibly completed by Montreal Construction Group that were completed by other firms. And the Canada Immigration Hub website features testimonials from satisfied clients — who aren’t real.

Raghib, from Saudi Arabia, says on the site: “No matter how easy or straightforward Canadian immigration process might look like, it isn’t easy at all. … After getting in touch with CIH, things were different and much better.”Surender, from Bangalore, says: “These people explained to me how studying in Canada can help me with my career and eventually getting a permanent residency.”

But the photo for Surender is really a stock image, available online, titled “Portrait of a middle-aged Indian with folded hands.” The photo of Raghib is another stock image: “Horizontal portrait of young smiling Arab man.”

Perhaps the most convincing tactic used by Canada Immigration Hub is the name of the person they use to contact their potential victims: Craig Jackson.

An identity stolen with impunity

Craig Jackson is a real immigration consultant, registered with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), a non-profit organization that has been mandated by the federal government to regulate immigration advising services. But he does not work for Canada Immigration Hub. The fraudsters used his identity to gain their victims’ trust.

The real Craig Jackson said he began receiving emails in late 2019 and early 2020 from people who were being strung along by Montreal Construction Group, signalling that his name was being used as part of an elaborate fraud.

“My initial reaction was of outrage and anger, followed by wonder,” Jackson said. “(I) was curious as to why they targeted my identity.”

The ICCRC had advised him to report the fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) — so he did.Al-Americani also reported the fraud. He emailed the Canadian embassy in Beirut, but received a generic response. Emara said he was considering reporting the scam to Saudi police.

But the international nature of the scam hinders law enforcement efforts.

Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP intelligence analyst at the CAFC, said well-trained, resourceful groups are likely behind the Montreal Construction Group fraud.

“People ask, ‘Who’s behind this stuff?’ It’s organized crime at the end of the day,” Thomson said. “When you look at the level of organization involved — the multiple countries where the money is going, the websites — the sophistication, the steps they set up to run the scams.”

The CAFC has received multiple complaints about Montreal Construction Group, but Canadian authorities lack the ability to investigate and prosecute those behind the fraud, in part because there is little connecting the perpetrators to Canada.

“What we see with a lot of these things is oftentimes the fraudsters use Canadian government entities or business names … but none of the money ends up coming here,” Thomson said. “They’re just using Canadian entities because people want to come to Canada for our reputation.”

Though the Montreal Construction Group fraudsters — and others like them — often avoid prosecution, Canadian authorities can make it more expensive for them to do business by targeting their websites and bank accounts.

But immigration fraud is rampant. It keeps the authorities busy, and shutting down websites and bank accounts only delays the scammers. They tend to crop back up.An Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson said in a statement that the government had earmarked $51 million to improve enforcement and public awareness of immigration fraud and establish systems to better crack down on fraudulent immigration consultants.

“The government of Canada takes any kind of citizenship or immigration fraud seriously,” the statement reads. “Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada urges clients to use the official departmental website to obtain information about its programs in order to avoid becoming victims of fraud.”

An ICCRC spokesperson said the agency could not investigate the activity of those who had impersonated Jackson, because the perpetrators were not real immigration consultants. But he said the organization was aware of the situation: “We’ve been looking into the matter and are working with enforcement authorities to combat these schemes.” He also said criminal fraud of the kind displayed by the Montreal Construction Group scams is rare, but that the ICCRC is slated to soon become a new body that would have more power to prevent such fraud.

A hidden network

It is unclear who is behind the fraud, but banking information from an account associated with the fraud points to a man named Nabeel Ahmed, ostensibly living in Wichita, Kan. Phone records also link the listed number for Montreal Construction Group — a Montreal landline — to a man named Nabeel Ahmed.

In 2012, Windsor police arrested a man they said was a prolific fraudster named Nabeel Ahmed, who had a criminal history of committing identity and credit card fraud. He was convicted on fraud-related charges and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.
The Montreal Gazette could not confirm that the Nabeel Ahmed convicted in Windsor is the same person linked to the fraud-connected bank account and the Montreal landline. Attempts to reach Nabeel Ahmed were unsuccessful.

One of the fake company websites — the Nova Recruiters site — is listed as registered to someone in Ontario, suggesting the fraudsters may have some physical connection to Canada, but besides that, little is known about their physical location.

A game of whack-a-mole

Even if authorities succeed in shutting down Montreal Construction Group’s website, or if enough people catch on to the scam, those behind it may well restart the scam under a new company.

A Montreal Gazette analysis has found that an eerily similar fraud network operated in the spring of 2019 — before the Montreal Construction Group scam. The earlier scam offered victims employment on Canada’s West Coast instead of in Montreal, but the similarities between the operations suggest that those who run the Montreal Construction Group scheme have experience rebuilding their network when officials begin to catch on to them.

The earlier scam used the same methods as Montreal Construction Group, and much of the language the fraudsters use in emails from both the old and the new scam is identical.

Instead of Montreal Construction Group, the earlier scam used Richmond Construction Group. Instead of Nova Recruiters, the earlier scam used Oakville Recruiters. Instead of Canada Immigration Hub, the earlier scam used Canada Shores.
Instead of Craig Jackson, the fraudsters impersonated Gregory Batt, another registered immigration consultant.

The real Gregory Batt said he began receiving emails and phone calls in late April 2019 from people asking him when they would receive their permanent residence. “All the guys who contacted me were well educated and articulate, mostly engineers,” he said. “I told all the folks who contacted me that they had been cheated, that Canada Shores was a fake company.”

Ahmed Rashed, an experienced purchase manager from Saudi Arabia who nearly fell for the Richmond Construction Group scam, said the organization and co-ordination astounded him. He was close to paying an initial $1,000 fee to immigrate to Canada, but had a friend in Vancouver check the address of Richmond Construction Group. There was no company.

“I deal with the internet all the time and I was about to fall for this,” Rashed said. “You know why they chose Canada? They chose Canada because they know everybody likes Canada. … That will help them to fool more people. This is because Canada has a good reputation.”

Dreaming of Canada

While wrapped up in the scam, victims spend weeks — sometimes more than a month — planning to move their families, their lives, to a new country.

For Al-Americani, the loss of the $1,000 he paid is secondary to the pain of having his immigration hopes dashed.

“For a month and a half we were living this dream of going to Montreal and having this new life,” he said, “and having our kids become Canadians and ourselves becoming Canadians.”

When he came to the realization that the company was a lie — that there was no job offer, no prospect of working in Canada — Al-Americani was crushed. “We felt really bad about it,” he said. “For like two, three weeks we were depressed.”

The scam also tends to leave its victims distrustful of immigration processes. But Al-Americani is still holding out hope. He said his family has recently begun once more to mull over the idea of coming to Canada.

“You know, it’s been a few days since it’s passed through my head to do the process a second time,” he said. “I think we’re going to do it.”

No one answers the phones at any of the fake companies and, as of publication, their websites are still active.

Source:  Immigration fraud in Canada, foreign workers should be cautious

Arrest of immigration consultant sparks questions about why regulator didn’t act sooner

Valid questions and it remains to be seen whether the reforms to the ICCRC will prove effective or not:

Artem Djukic’s paralegal licence was revoked in April 2016 when he admitted to “misappropriating” $900,000 from two former clients of his immigration consulting business.

At the time, Djukic, 55, was facing 10 outstanding complaints related to his work as an immigration consultant and was barred from representing asylum seekers at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB)

But four months later, without resolving the complaints, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) said Djukic could continue working as a consultant so long as he complied with a strict supervisory system.

According to the IRB, this was to include financial audits, monthly reporting requirements and open access to his books.

Based on these assurances, the IRB lifted its restrictions against Djukic and allowed him to again represent claimants at the board.

But ICCRC now tells Global News it did not have the authority it needed to properly monitor and investigate Djukic during this supervisory period.

It also alleges that over the past decade, Djukic, while running Soko Immigration Consulting Service, improperly took roughly $155,000 from six clients, encouraged dishonest and illegal conduct, and, in at least one case, provided advice that led to a client being deported.

And much of this alleged misconduct occurred while he was under the regulator’s supervision, according to a January decision from ICCRC that revoked Djukic’s licence to practice as a consultant,

Now, lawyers such as Darcy Merkur and Ravi Jain, chair of the immigration law section of the Canadian Bar Association, are asking whether the council shares any responsibility for Djukic’s alleged wrongdoing while under its supervision.

“I’m not impressed with their replies around how they supervised him,” Jain said. “I don’t think they did anything at all.”

Djukic arrested, charged with fraud

Djukic was arrested in January by Peel Regional Police and charged with defrauding the public in connection with an alleged $95,000 immigration scam.

The council denies it shares any blame for Djukic’s alleged actions, including while he was under its supervision, adding that recent decisions made against him show he is “ungovernable.”

They also say revoking Djukic’s licence in January and ordering him to repay the money he allegedly took is proof that changes to its complaints process over the past two years have worked. These include going from four to 23 full-time complaints investigators, hiring more experienced senior staff and prioritizing the most serious cases.

Djukic did not appear at the hearing when his licence was revoked and did not provide a defence against any of the allegations.

“Responsibility for his egregious behaviour and unprofessional conduct is his alone,” said ICCRC spokesperson Christopher May.

John Murray, ICCRC’s president and CEO, also says the regulator did its best to discipline Djukic in the past based on the information it had at the time.

But he acknowledged that, until very recently, the council’s discipline committee lacked the training and expertise it needed to deal with complex cases, adding that if the past complaints against Djukic were made today, they would be handled quicker and more effectively.

Murray also thinks the regulator was “set up to fail” by the government because it wasn’t given the same powers to investigate and monitor its members that other regulators were given, such as provincial law societies or colleges of physicians.

This lack of authority, Murray said, made it impossible for the council to protect the public and go after individuals such as Djukic.

“It’s fair to say that prior to 2018, the council did not have an efficient complaints and discipline process,” Murray said.

But ICCRC has always had the power to suspend or revoke a consultant’s licence due to misconduct.

Still, in 2017, when Djukic was found to have committed eight breaches of the council’s code of conduct, its discipline committee decided to keep him under supervision rather than revoke or suspend his licence.

Neither May nor Murray would explain why ICCRC decided to keep Djukic under supervision in 2017, although the ruling said he agreed to pay back the money he’d improperly taken.

This decision was made less than a year after the Law Society of Ontario revoked Djukic’s paralegal licence for admitting to “misappropriating” roughly $900,000 from two former immigration clients and using the funds for his own personal gain.

The law society ruling said Djukic showed no remorse for his “devastating” actions.

Refugee claimant felt ‘used’

Mirela Todorovic, her husband and two children hired Djukic in 2014.

Todorovic says Djukic guaranteed their refugee claim — based on fears of persecution for their Roma heritage — would be successful because he had “connections” and because he knew all the adjudicators at the IRB.

Djukic encouraged them to pay cash and didn’t provide a receipt, she said. The family says they agreed to pay Djukic $6,000 for his services, including representing them at the IRB, translating documents and preparing them for their hearing.

But other than processing their work and study permits, he did nothing for their asylum case, she said.

Todorovic wonders why ICCRC — knowing what it knew about Djukic’s past behavior and given his long history of complaints — didn’t revoke his licence sooner.

“Half of it was their fault,” Todorovic said. “Why didn’t they stop him?”

Pending changes to regulator

Djukic was the subject of at least 30 complaints between 2011 and 2018 while working as an immigration consultant. Sixteen of these complaints, including the six that led to his licence being revoked, resulted in disciplinary action, May said.

May did not provide information on the number of complaints made against Djukic in the 19 years he claims to have worked as a consultant before the council was created in 2011.

ICCRC says one of the reasons Djukic was able to engage in alleged wrongdoing while under its supervision is because it lacked the authority to properly investigate consultants.

But this will soon change, Murray said.

Legislation passed by the government last April — which will see ICCRC transition to a self-governing “college” similar to provincial law societies — provides enhanced protections for the public.

The legislation will give the college greater investigatory powers, such as the ability to compel consultants to provide testimony and evidence, as well as the legal authority to enter and search immigration consulting offices without obtaining a warrant.

It will also allow investigators to take action against former consultants and to work with law enforcement officials from other countries to go after alleged wrongdoing abroad.

But Jain says it’s not only about complaints. He thinks the requirements for becoming a consultant are insufficient to practice law, especially when appearing before the IRB..

The solution is for the government to require all immigration consultants to work under the supervision of a lawyer, Jain said, such as in the United States, where the practice of law is limited to lawyers.

“Criminal lawyers would be shocked if all of a sudden we said, look, you don’t need a law degree to practice criminal law,” Jain said.

The IRB, meanwhile, has called refugee and immigration law one of the most complicated areas of law.

Paul Aterman, a former head of the board’s immigration division, testified before Parliament in 2017 saying there’s a “big distinction” between the type of work done at the IRB — where representatives must examine and cross-examine witnesses, develop complex legal strategies and argue cases persuasively — versus helping would-be immigrants fill out forms.

But May believes consultants are qualified to appear before the board and that it’s unnecessary for them to be supervised by lawyers, adding that the government agrees with both of these points or it would have changed the rules when it passed its new legislation last year.

May also says the vast majority of consultants conduct themselves professionally, that most complaints the council receives are targeted toward a small group of problematic consultants and that once the new rules are in place, ICCRC will be able to go after these cases more aggressively.

The council is also strengthening its educational requirements by developing a post-graduate program for certification, creating a compensation fund for victimized clients and developing more stringent standards for consultants who appear before the IRB.

Source: http://globalnews.ca/news/6588042/immigration-consultant-arrest-regulator-supervision/

Thousands of international students cited in government report for breaking rules

Yet more details on fraud among international students. Good and needed investigative reporting:

Canada issued Anass El Kamel a student visa to study at the Université de Moncton, but the Moroccan man never attended a single class or even lived in New Brunswick.

Instead, upon arriving in Canada in 2017, he settled in Montreal and got a job with a parking management company, claiming illness prevented him from starting school. Immigration officials tracked him down and ordered him to leave Canada a year later for failing to “actively” study as his visa required.

A Federal Court decision against El Kamel stated, “The (education) program he was to complete in Canada was not of great concern to him. He simply wanted to quickly complete a program so that he could then apply for permanent residence in Canada.”

El Kamel is clearly not the only international student with that intent. For the first time, an internal 2018 government report reveals data on the possible misuse of student visas to gain access to Canada.

According to the report from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, obtained under an access to information request, roughly 10 per cent of international students enrolled in post-secondary institutions are “potentially” not complying with the conditions of their study permits for anything from academic suspensions to no-shows. But the number of students breaking the rules is likely higher because schools fail to report the enrolment status of up to 20 per cent of international students.

Price of Admission, an ongoing joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the St. Catharines Standard this fall, looked at the exponential growth of international students, particularly in the Ontario college system, and its impacts on Canada’s immigration and education systems. Reporting found evidence of students using their study permits as a pathway for jobs and permanent residence in Canada.

“The volume of non-compliance should not really be a surprise to anyone. Most international students at the community college level are edu-immigration clients. If they can avoid school and gain immigration status through work opportunities, that’s what all of them would do,” said Earl Blaney a London, Ont., immigration consultant who doubles as an education agent in the Philippines. “Having a study permit offers direct access to employers for this purpose.”

Canada’s immigration department does not have dedicated funding to monitor and investigate if international students are following immigration rules. The detection of “non-genuine students” largely relies on an honour system through reporting by the hundreds of learning institutions designated by each province.

School administrators have been required to report on international student enrolment status since 2016. This followed an explosion of international student enrolment in Canada after 2014, when immigration policy changes made it easier for students who study at publicly funded institutions to work and apply for permanent residency. There are more than 572,000 international students across Canada, a 73 per cent hike over the past five years.

The partially redacted internal government report obtained by the Star found that 90 per cent — or 587 of the 655 schools — submitted data on enrolment.

School administrators, in the spring of 2018, identified 9 per cent, or 28,049 of the 316,531 study permit holders, as being “potentially non-compliant.” They failed to report the enrolment status of 16 per cent, or 51,051 of the international students.

The report said that since 2018, officials have also been checking school acceptance letters international students use to apply for study permits. So far, 10,400 acceptance letters have been referred for verification; 12 per cent, or 1,240 cases, were identified as fraudulent.

Colleges and Institutes Canada, the largest national post-secondary advocacy group in the country, said it is challenging to track international students after arrival.

“The integrity of the international student program is very important. It’s a top priority for us and our members to ensure all students access to quality education in Canada. Nobody benefits from students not showing up in class,” said Denise Amyot, CEO and president of the group, which represents 135 schools across Canada.

An international student who switches to a different school from the one they originally planned to attend can be wrongly deemed non-compliant if the student doesn’t update their immigration records.

“Sometimes people have valid reasons to be non-compliant with the conditions in their study permits. Maybe they have to go home for a family emergency,” explained Amyot.

What further complicates the reporting process is that the immigration department had not clearly defined what “actively” pursuing an academic program really meant until earlier this year when updated guidelines were published, detailing expectations as well as evidence required for proof of enrolment, said Blaney, the immigration consultant.

“Students had no idea what ‘actively pursue’ meant or what the consequences were until these program delivery instructions occurred six years after the compliance regime was put in place,” he noted.

A recent federal court decision pointed to these criteria when approving a decision by immigration officials to kick out international student, Kaur Gursimran, who came to Canada from India in 2016 to study business at Simon Fraser University. She later transferred to Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C., then to Canadian College, in Vancouver.

“She changed schools and programs, moving from business programs into a general arts and science program in spite of her permit specifying that she is to study business or commerce. Additionally, she took off two semesters in three years, and failed more courses than she has passed,” said Justice Ann Marie McDonald in the October decision.

In her defence, Kaur argued she had a car accident and as a result did not attend the minimum number of classes and withdrew from a semester at Canadian College — though she was unable to produce an accident report or a witness statement.

The court concluded “Kaur’s absences alone are sufficient to demonstrate that she did not comply with the … requirement that she actively pursue her studies.”

While the internal government report offers a rare glimpse of the extent of potential violations by international students, the numbers don’t explain the reasons behind the rule-breaking, said Amira El Masri, an expert on international education policies at York University.

“I would love to know more about those non-compliant cases. Where do they come from? Which institutions? Is it colleges? Is it universities? Is it private (institutions)? Is it public? This would shed some lights and would steer policies one way or another,” said El Masri.

“We have a huge body of international students. They contribute a lot to our teaching and learning in the classroom. There are a few non-compliant cases. When we introduce any new policy, we need to make sure we don’t complicate life for everybody in the process.”

In 2018, immigration officials randomly selected 1,050 of the non-compliant cases reported by schools across Canada for further investigation, but the outcomes were redacted in the report obtained by the Star.

It’s up to the provinces to accredit schools to accept international students and the schools must in turn meet standards and monitor student enrolment. In Ontario, the list of recognized schools has grown from 298 in 2014 to 420 in 2019.

The provinces are also responsible for the enforcement of labour laws, which also cover international students whose study permits allow them to work off-campus for up to 20 hours a week and stay on postgraduate work permits that are good for one to three years.

The issue of international students breaching employment restrictions was raised by immigration officials in a 2015 report that found many of them enrolled in Canadian schools because of the easy access to jobs. Many end up in low-skilled work.

“Some educational institutions in Canada offer low-quality education programs with minimal entry requirements and adjust their programs to allow international students to maximize the duration of their postgraduate work permit,” said the report.

“The current program design … increases the motivation to create low-quality education programs facilitating long-term work opportunities.”

Being caught for breaking rules has dire consequences with students losing their permits and being deported.

In 2018, 5,502 study permits were revoked, up from 1,538 in 2016. In the first two months of 2019 alone, 1,048 study permits were cancelled. The Canada Border Services Agency was unable to provide the number of international students deported from Canada.

Indian international student Jobandeep Singh Sandhu, 22, paid a high price for breaking the rules. The Canadore College student worked as a long-haul truck driver and was stopped by Ontario Provincial Police for a routine inspection near Cornwall in 2017. His driver log book revealed he had worked more hours than permitted under his student permit. He was turned over to federal authorities and deported this summer.

Rahul Choudaha, an international education consultant and researcher based in Colorado, said Canada is behind the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom in implementing policies to track international students.

In the U.S., for example, the eligibility for a postgraduate work permit is tied to employment in the field of study of an international student, who can only work off-campus during school breaks.

However, he said Canada already has a “rigorous” study permit application process to screen out ineligible students at the front end — through school admissions and scrutiny by overseas visa officers.

“The goal of these mechanisms is to ensure the integrity of the system, but it is also important for Canada to attract and retain these international students,” said Choudaha. “There are always those who try to game the system, but you don’t want the 90 per cent of genuine students being affected.”

Source: Thousands of international students cited in government report for breaking rules

Toronto immigration firm charges $170K for fake Canadian job, undercover investigation reveals

Classic case of immigration fraud and good in-depth investigative reporting by CBC:

Toronto-based WonHonTa Consulting promises to help Chinese nationals gain permanent residency in Canada. (WonHonTa Consulting Inc. )

A Toronto immigration company offered a job to an undercover CBC journalist posing as a Chinese national seeking permanent residence in Canada for $170,000.

For that fee, WonHonTa Consulting Inc. said, the would-be immigrant would be buying the job and paying their own wage.

And the company said the applicant was to pay the fee to the personal bank account of WonHonTa’s sole director in order to avoid taxes.

Jiacheng Song, a manager with a China-based affiliate of WonHonTa, Nanjing Youtai Investment Consulting Co. Ltd., explained how the business works to the undercover journalist using WeChat, a Chinese social media app.

During the month-long investigation conducted through a translator, the journalist posed as a Chinese citizen wanting to become a permanent resident of Canada by obtaining skilled employment.

“To be frank, we have employers who work with us,” Song wrote. “We pay them money, they are willing to sponsor our clients for immigration.”

Song said “a big chunk” of the fee goes to the Canadian employer, prompting him to ask rhetorically: Why wouldn’t a Canadian company want to participate when it “can make easy money and have free labour for six months?”

Vancouver-based immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland characterized what WonHonTa offered bluntly.

“It’s a fake job, pure and simple,” he said.

He said selling jobs is illegal and it allows rule-breakers to jump the queue on legitimate immigrants who play by the rules.

“Who gets hurt? The integrity of Canada’s immigration program,” said Kurland.

Real jobs ‘very rare and precious’

Song said his company, Nanjing Youtai, finds Chinese nationals interested in immigrating to Canada and refers them to WonHonTa in Toronto.

Song recommended the undercover journalist consider either Saskatchewan or Atlantic Canada because the qualification requirements are low and the wait times are short. He said it’s $180,000 for a job in Saskatchewan or $170,000 for the Atlantic provinces.

Song told the undercover reporter that over the past year his company had placed more than a dozen Chinese nationals in Atlantic Canada and just under ten in Saskatchewan.

On its WeChat site, WonHonTa promotes a range of skilled jobs, such as welders, sewing machine operators and daycare workers.

The company claims it has a national network of head hunters who help recruit willing employers. It claims some of them are government immigration officials.

“With more and more people now wanting to apply, employers are having a larger appetite for higher fees,” Song said.

“If you don’t pay a certain fee, there is no way the employer would want to get involved in this matter.”

In order to qualify for permanent residency, the foreign worker has to be able to prove they’re employed in a skilled profession in Canada.

In an article on its WeChat page, WonHonTa notes that it’s very difficult for a Chinese national to find a real job in Canada.

“Think of it this way: Someone only has overseas work experience, no PR [permanent resident] card, never met with the employer — it’s the equivalent to a Beijing local company hiring a migrant worker with no valid ID — Why would anyone dare to hire you directly?” the article asks.

“So is there any real job? The answer is very, very rare and precious,” the article says.

WonHonTa says it works around that by paying employers thousands of dollars for job offers.

Creating a paper trail

Song introduced CBC’s undercover reporter to the “boss” of WonHonTa’s head office in Toronto, Xin Liu, who goes by the name Yuki.

She said the would-be immigrant can go to work for the Canadian company that sponsored them if they wish. In that case, the employer will essentially be paying back some of the Chinese national’s fee in the form of wages.

However, Liu said it’s not necessary to actually work for the company that sponsored the applicant for immigration. She said WonHonTa will provide the necessary documentation to make it look as though they did work there.

“If you don’t work for the employer, we can ask him to issue a pay stub, but it’s not real pay,” she wrote via WeChat. “Your paycheque is just for show. Only to make the paper trail look good.”

Liu said she will ensure all of the appropriate documentation is in place.

“In many circumstances, records of the documents are required should there be an investigation. For example, you are required to file a tax return. You would have to have a tax return record. Banking activities have records, you would have to provide these records.”

She said if the Chinese national doesn’t actually work at their designated place of employment they will be responsible to pay the employer the taxes that would have been paid had the applicant actually worked.

“We can negotiate with the employer, telling them, ‘This person doesn’t really want to work for you, nor wants to stay in this province,'” she said. “This is all negotiable, and all you need to do is to pay the taxes owing to the CRA.”

The massive size of the country makes it impossible to pull resources for site visits just to find out if you are actually working at this company.– Xin Liu, WonHonTa Consulting Ltd. 

Liu assured CBC’s undercover reporter that immigration officials are unlikely to detect the scheme.

“For Immigration Canada, they are understaffed,” Liu said. “The massive size of the country makes it impossible to pull resources for site visits just to find out if you are actually working at this company.”

However, in the unlikely event that an immigration official makes an unexpected site visit to see if the foreign national is at work, Liu said the employer would say the worker was out of the office on business.

Avoiding taxes

Liu provided the undercover reporter with a copy of her company’s standard contract with a would-be immigrant.

In the section outlining the payment details, CBC noticed that Liu wanted her customers to pay her personal bank account.

On WeChat, the undercover reporter asked Liu why.

“In Canada, the VAT [value added tax] charge is 13 per cent when doing business with companies,” she said. “However, we offer the employers real profit, therefore it has to be done through a personal account. In China, we wire the money to the personal account of a company’s legal representative — this is a practice to avoid paying taxes.”

CBC gets a job offer

As the conversation with Liu developed over the month-long investigation, she began hunting for a job for the undercover journalist’s “wife.”

Late last month, Liu announced: “Great news! We have found a good match for your wife, based on her resume.”

Liu said the job offer came from a Halifax-based daycare called Daydreams.

“The owner is a Caucasian. This is a sought-after job opportunity, because there are several inquiries received by the employer already. It really comes down to who pays the deposit first,” she said.

Liu sent the undercover reporter a sample contract in the name of the reporter’s “wife” showing she would be charged $170,000 for the job offer.

When the undercover journalist inquired a couple of days later, Liu said they were too late. The position had been taken. But she promised to line up another offer once the deposit had been paid.

‘I have never heard of them’

One of the owners of Daydreams Childcare Centre, Colleen Dempsey, was baffled when CBC called to inquire about this supposed job offer.

Dempsey said her company had registered with the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP) about 10 months ago so she could hire one particular foreign national who had already been working at the facility on an open work permit.

“I have never done any business with them,” she said of WonHonTa. “I have never spoke with them. I have never heard of them.

“We’re a small business that I’ve built from the ground up and I certainly don’t appreciate my name being thrown around in those regards.”

The name of every company that registers with the AIPP is listed online.

Dempsey assumes that’s how WonHonTa found out about her company. She said the public listing has created other problems for her as well.

“Since we have become listed as part of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program … there have been an increase in e-mails from random individuals looking for [permanent] residency and I have not replied to one,” she said.

Dempsey isn’t the only one fielding unwelcome phone calls.

Erica Stanley, an immigration consultant in Charlottetown, told CBC she’s been flooded with calls from foreign nationals looking for an employment offer.

“So, just the volume of phone calls is ridiculous. And my inbox is full of website inquiries,” Stanley said. “They’re like, ‘Well, we’re willing to pay.’ I said, ‘Oh I’m sure you are but it’s illegal to do that.’ ‘Oh, but everybody’s doing it.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s nice, then you can find someone else who can do it.'”

Liu says jobs-for-cash is illegal

Shortly after receiving the job offer, a CBC reporter who was not undercover called Liu and asked if she would do an interview about immigration. At this time, CBC didn’t mention its ongoing investigation into Liu’s company.

Liu agreed to a phone interview. She confirmed her company helps Chinese nationals find employment in Canada, leading to permanent residency. She said she charges $2,000 to $5,000 for that service.

The reporter told Liu that some companies charge $170,000 to $180,000 for the same service.

“It could be, if somebody is trying to make money on it,” she said.

CBC asked Liu if she had ever heard of situations where a Chinese national had to pay a Canadian company for a job and pay their own wage. She said she had not.

“Wow,” she said. “Why would they do that?”

CBC asked if paying for a job and paying your own wage is allowed in Canada.

“Of course not,” Liu said. “The law says that it’s forbid if they [immigration officials] find that the job is not real, right?”

CBC then pointed out the article on WonHonTa’s WeChat site that says under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, 90 per cent of the jobs obtained by foreign nationals are the sort where the employee pays their own wage.

She said she was surprised by this, noting that she doesn’t write or even read content on her own WeChat site.

“How could I have time to write those?” she said.

That article was removed from WeChat shortly after CBC brought it to Liu’s attention.

CBC unveils undercover investigation

CBC then revealed to Liu that it had been conducting a month-long investigation into her company and its practices and had been regularly communicating with her under an assumed identity.

When asked why she previously told the undercover reporter the cost was $170,000 for a job in Atlantic Canada, Liu stumbled over her words for 30 seconds, before attempting to end the interview.

“Ah, it’s um … it’s between the company … I’m driving right now. Can I call you back?” she said.

She promised to continue the conversation after receiving proof she was talking to a journalist. CBC sent an email, but Liu has not replied.

Then CBC phoned Song at his China office and revealed its undercover investigation to him. He said much of what he had told CBC’s undercover reporter was a lie.

He said he was lying when he claimed to have found jobs in Canada for Chinese nationals. He said he’s never done that. He said he was lying when he told CBC’s undercover reporter that his company pays Canadian employers for jobs. He said his company has never done that.

Song said most immigration companies in China do pay Canadian employers for jobs, so he has to pretend to do that as well.

“That’s just a marketing strategy in order to get clients to sign the deal,” Song said in an interview with CBC. “If we don’t do this, our business will never sustain.”

Song said he was unhappy that CBC was investigating his company, which is quite small.

“So it’s really unfair for us to be caught by you while there are so many much bigger companies out there you don’t look into.”

Song said he and Liu are too ethical to pay for a job offer.

“I believe Yuki is a guileless person. She works hard for her clients because she genuinely wants to help them find a real job in Canada.” he said.

‘Everyone’s hands are dirty’

Richard Kurland, the immigration lawyer in Vancouver, didn’t mince words when asked for his assessment of WonHonTa’s scheme.

“I don’t think there’s a serious question that this amounts to an egregious violation of IRPA, the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, as well as Canada’s immigration program.”

He said there is a corrosive effect on each person in the chain of transactions.

“Everyone’s hands are dirty, which means no one can appear in public and seek justice, which means that the business that collects money keeps the money, regardless of outcome,” said Kurland.

So-called arranged employment (AE) offers have been a tool of fraudsters for decades in Canada, as demonstrated by an internal 2010 federal government report commissioned by Human Resources and Social Development Canada.

Canadian diplomatic missions from around the world were questioned about the integrity of these job offers and they flagged widespread problems.

  • Hong Kong reported “high rates of fraud or suspected fraud and only 15-22 per cent of AE offers were found to be genuine.”
  • Beijing said that “21 of the 33 files chosen for review found the applicants were not working for the employer or had never worked for the employer.”
  • New Delhi found that “over 60 per cent of the cases never worked for the employers in Canada.”
  • Seoul said “that out of 29 cases landed in 2008, only eight appeared bona fide, 12 cases found collusion between the employer and/or applicant and/or agent.”

CBC asked the federal government for more recent numbers, but it didn’t provide any.

Instead, Shannon Ker, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, wrote that “the vast majority of applications received by IRCC are genuine.” Ker said IRCC has trained its employees “how to detect fraud and the appropriate steps to take when there is sufficient cause to suspect it is taking place.”

Kurland said that, in his view, Ottawa and provincial regulators aren’t doing enough.

“There is a genuine concern that the province and the feds have insufficient enforcement resources to keep things honest.”

And a lack of enforcement is an invitation for abuse, he said.

“If the international marketplace knows you have a budget for a handful of police officers and you have 2,000 banks in your city, some bank is going to get robbed all the time.”

Source: Toronto immigration firm charges $170K for fake Canadian job, undercover investigation reveals

Visitors from India face high rejection rates on visa applications

Good analysis of the data and indication that the government is addressing fraud and applying risk management to different applications:

Refusals on visitor applications from India due to fraud and misrepresentation are soaring, which Ottawa and immigration experts say is in part due to unscrupulous “ghost consultants.”

While the number of Indian visitor visa applications has increased significantly, refusals are growing at an even faster clip. Data provided by the federal government show that the percentage of refusals due to an applicant misrepresenting themselves – through fraudulent submissions, for instance – has nearly tripled. In 2017, 0.9 per cent of all Indian visitor visa rejections were for misrepresentation; from January to May this year, the number jumped to 2.5 per cent.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) refused 1,477 applications due to misrepresentation in 2017. Between January and May of this year, that number had already reached 3,709. The department could see close to a 500-per-cent increase in fraud refusals by year’s end compared with 2017 if current trends hold.

In response to the increasing number of refusals for Indian applications, in June the federal government rolled out an information campaign targeting Indians applying for visas. The effort includes resources on identifying and reporting fraud throughout the process, including by ghost consultants – unscrupulous, unlicensed immigration consultants.

“We anticipate that this campaign will help address some of the spinoff effects of circulating misinformation, such as high refusal rates and abuse of the asylum system,” Mathieu Genest, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said in an e-mailed statement. Mr. Genest said the problem of ghost consultants is “particularly acute” in India.

Bank statements, income taxes, medical files, education histories, funeral home letters and even letters of support from members of Parliament are some of the types of fraudulent documents received by IRCC in recent years. Aside from fraud, Mr. Genest said the government is also seeing an increase in repeat applications from Indians previously denied and an overreliance on paper applications, which take longer to process, but noted that the increase in refusals should not affect legitimate applicants.

Partly owing to the increase in misrepresentation refusals, approval rates on Indian visitor visa applications have plummeted.

In April, 2015, 88 per cent of visa applications from India were approved – Ottawa received 27,600 applications that month. But by December of 2018, Canadian immigration authorities were receiving more than 58,000 applications each month and approval rates had dropped to 40.8 per cent.

The drop in India’s approval rates comes as the federal government has worked to streamline the visa process. According to documents obtained by The Globe and Mail through access-to-information requests, IRCC is using artificial-intelligence tools to review temporary resident visa applications from China and India as they come in.

Online applications predicted by AI models to be low-risk are sent to an immigration officer for review, simplifying the process. According to IRCC, 30 per cent to 40 per cent of China’s visitor visa applications are are now handled through this streamlined process; however, only 3 per cent to 5 per cent of Indian applications meet that low-risk threshold.

As of April, India was the top source of visitor visa applications to Canada. The country recently surpassed China, where applications have declined in recent months, which some attribute to the continuing diplomatic dispute between Ottawa and Beijing.

According to data from IRCC, Indians submitted 73,457 temporary resident visa applications that month, accounting for nearly a third of the worldwide total. China came in second place, with 46,646 applications.

Visitor visas are required for anyone from a non-visa-exempt country and looking to visit, work or study in Canada. As such, they’re often the first step in the immigration process.

Prashant Ajmera, an immigration lawyer in India who has an office in Montreal, was surprised to hear that the approval rate for visas from India had decreased so dramatically. He said the Canadian government has been touting the growing number of visitors from India, drawing attention to the fact that Canada welcomed nearly 300,000 visitors from that country last year. (There is no cap on how many visitor visas Canada issues each year.)

However, Mr. Ajmera said the Canadian government’s information campaign in India will not solve the problem, as applicants already know about visa fraud and immigration scams.

“They are aware of it but they’re taking calculated risks, most of them,” Mr. Ajmera said. “It’s a very common story.”

He said it would be a better use of Canada’s time to work with other like-minded governments, such as the United States, Britain and Australia, to encourage the Indian government to better regulate its immigration consultants in an effort to stem visa fraud.

One Canadian immigration lawyer thinks that the immigration consultant industry itself may be to blame. Ravi Jain, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer at Green and Spiegel LLP, said that lawyers are taking on clients who first worked with an Indian immigration consultant, only to find that the client’s visitor visa application was riddled with mistakes.

In some cases, unlicensed immigration consultants impersonate applicants throughout the process. “Often times, those people will even make up e-mail addresses. I’m not kidding, they do this,” he said.

Unscrupulous immigration consultants are not the only possible explanation for the decline in India’s approval rates.

Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he believes visa fraud, particularly relating to study permits, is the main reason for the decline in the approval rate of temporary resident visas from India. He said study permits are the “number one threat to Canada’s immigration system today” because there is no cap on the number of permits the government can issue, allowing foreign immigration consultants to take advantage of the program.

A recent Globe and Mail investigation revealed that private colleges in Canada are being accused of paying overseas agents to persuade international students that paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition to study in Canada is the easiest way to get into the country and work toward becoming a permanent resident.

Douglas Todd: Would-be immigrants to Canada being sold ‘false dreams’

Yet another story on immigration fraud with some examples of more reputable consultants:

The migration agents confronted Vancouver’s Laleh Sahba as she walked on the sidewalk last month near the Canadian embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

The street hawkers told her that, for $25,000 or more, they would get her to an immigration professional who would be sure to hand her a visitor or student visa so she could be well on her way to obtaining a Canada passport.

The sidewalk agents mistook Sahba for another near-desperate Middle Eastern person who would spend almost everything she had for the dream of becoming a permanent resident in Canada, land of promise.

But Sahba — an Iranian-Canadian and a regulated Canadian immigration consultant — says her encounter with Turkey’s street agents was just another reminder how easy it is for people abroad and in Canada to claim to be immigration experts to take vulnerable people for a nasty ride.

“They are selling wrong information. They are making up false dreams,” Sahba said at her downtown Vancouver office. “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.”

Sahba, who works with professional immigration partners in the Middle East, is among a small number of Canadian immigration consultants and lawyers who are coming forward to describe the wide range of misinformation, misdeeds and scams being foisted on would-be immigrants.

Some of those posing as immigration specialists are telling anxious people they will eventually get a Canadian passport if they pay large sums, in the tens of thousands of dollars, just to obtain a study or visitor’s visa, which have limited use. Some are also falsely telling clients they can finagle them status as a refugee.

The immigration fantasies of foreign nationals often end in tatters, says Sahba, 40, who came to Canada from Iran two decades ago and has been a consultant for 15 years. Many immigration specialists are making promises they can’t deliver on. By the time most would-be immigrants come to her to find a way out of their migration problems “they are absolutely screwed. We can’t help them.”

Much more must be done, Sahba says, to clean up the fast-growing immigration-advice industry, which in Canada includes 5,400 regulated immigration consultants and 1,000 immigration lawyers, but also an untold number of unlicensed agents.

Marina Sedai, a Surrey immigration lawyer, tends to agree. She told a Conference Board of Canada workshop in Vancouver last month that there is “rampant immigration fraud” being perpetrated by some consultants and agents.

Sedai said she is constantly hearing from troubled clients about how they’ve being misled or defrauded by self-professed experts who demand large fees to guide foreign nationals through Canada’s intricate immigration system.

As national chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration section, Sedai highlighted how her organization has told federal Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen the system Ottawa has set up to regulate immigration consultants, who have less formal training than lawyers, is not working.  “There are good reasons,” the society said in 2017, “to limit the practice of immigration law to lawyers and Quebec notaries,” with immigration consultants working under the supervision of lawyers.

Many wives are being advised by immigration specialists to get a study visa so their husbands can come to Canada and work and their children can attend school, says Laleh Sahba. The trouble is many wives “don’t really want to study” and end up failing. It leads to big problems for the family.

Sahba, however, believes the majority of regulated immigration consultants do excellent work. Still, she hears at least five times a month from foreign nationals who have become embroiled in shady agreements that involve both Canadian immigration advisers and lawyers.

While Sahba generally supports Ottawa’s aim to make it simpler for some of the more than 500,000 foreign students in Canada to become permanent residents, for instance, she said some advisers are increasingly misrepresenting the study visa program as the backdoor immigration ticket for entire families.

Many wives in their 40s and 50s are being advised, she said, to apply for a study visa so that their husband can come to Canada on a spousal work visa and their children can attend schools in Toronto, Metro Vancouver and elsewhere.

The trouble, Sahba said, is many of the wives are unable to pass English-language exams and “don’t really want to study in the first place.” They begin failing courses and can’t get into postgraduate school, which means they and their husbands and children are expected to return home.

“It’s all over for them. They’ve 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.”

In addition to describing scams in which so-called immigration specialists have charged clients many thousands of dollars just for a visitor’s visa, Sahba said other illicit schemes involve provincial immigrant entrepreneur programs, including those operated by Quebec, B.C. and Manitoba.

Since a large number of so-called immigration specialists also have real-estate licences, Sahba says, some become embroiled in housing deals with rich prospective newcomers.

Other advisers direct so-called entrepreneurs to make “passive investments” in Canadian properties or businesses, which often involve nothing more than appearing to transfer money between relatives’ bank accounts.

In one extreme case, Sahba worked with two sisters from Pakistan who transferred more than $170,000 to immigration agents in Canada who said they were arranging the purchases of a gift shop and pet store in Vancouver. The entire process, which involved transferring photos and signatures via Skype, was fake. The culprits couldn’t be tracked.

The Canadian Bar Association, in its attempts to target “incompetent and unscrupulous” immigration advisers, told Canada’s immigration minister in 2017 there had been an “astonishing” 1,470 complaints against the regulated members of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) since it began in 2011, plus 1,115 more against non-members.

That regulatory council posts some of the online allegations against its licensed Canadian immigration consultants, with one ICCRC page describing disciplinary investigations against almost 50 named members, who regularly charged clients $10,000 to $30,000 for relatively small tasks. Many of the consultants are accused of misdeeds such as: “Deceiving client,” “misleading client,” “falsely advising client,” “failing to notify client,” “charging client exorbitant fee” and of “misrepresenting” themselves in a variety of ways, including as border officials.

Sedai said some immigration advisers have even become involved in presenting false job offers to would-be immigrants — an activity she says she has run into in Surrey. Burnaby immigration lawyer George Lee is among those who has tried to expose the widespread jobs deception.  

Although the clients of people who make a living in the immigration industry continue to take part in illicit schemes based on bad advice, Sabha wants to make clear some clients have not been innocent in the process. “They’ve got dirty hands, too.”

And the chances for all concerned of getting caught are increasing.

“The immigration officers are also not stupid anymore, not like in the old days,” Sahba says, chuckling. “They’re smart. And they’re looking at all aspects of every immigration application.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Would-be immigrants to Canada being sold ‘false dreams’

‘He was supposed to help us’: Chinese immigrants out thousands after immigration agent disappears

It would be a lot simpler just to ban consultants and only advise applicants to use lawyers. And hard to understand why people would trust a 24-year-old with that kind of money (no, lawyers have a few bad apples too, but there are meaningful codes of conduct and enforcement):

A Winnipeg immigration agent has allegedly skipped town, leaving a group of Chinese immigrants in the lurch and out thousands of dollars.

Jiatoo Immigration Consulting Inc., run by 24-year-old Zhihao Jia, quietly shut the doors at its Pembina Highway office in early March, clearing out furniture in a seemingly overnight move with no notice given to its landlord or clients.

“He was supposed to help us — but he didn’t help, but hurt us,” said Julie, a client of Jia’s, who the CBC has agreed not to identify.

Julie said she gave Jia $10,000 on March 1, 2019, to help her apply for a post-graduate work permit and eventually help her get permanent residency in Canada.

Instead, less than two weeks later, she was left scrambling to find Jia after he stopped returning her calls or texts.

‘No people, no furniture, nothing’

When Julie went to Jia’s office on March 11, she knew there was a problem.

“We found his office was totally vacant. Nobody was there. They were all gone. No people, no furniture, nothing,” she said.

The CBC has agreed not to name the woman we are calling Julie, as she is afraid that speaking out could impact her future immigration applications.

She is one of at least 13 Chinese immigrants who claim they were affected by Jia’s disappearance, according to licensed immigration consultant Yu Xiang, who is working with Julie and a few other clients left in the lurch.

One person gave Jia over $20,000 and only received partial services before the immigration agent packed up and left, Xiang said.

“The severity of harm done to them [varies],” person to person, he said.

Some clients paid and got nothing, he said, while others got partial help and some received full service. But Xiang questions the legitimacy of their applications, because Jia was not licensed to fill them out.

CBC has not been able to speak with Xiang’s clients to independently verify this claim.

Julie said she felt she could trust Jia after seeing online advertisements for his company, and a website saying it was nominated for a 2017 “new emerging Chinese company” award at the Manitoba Chinese Business Gala.

When she went to the company, Julie had just graduated college and needed to get a job in order to obtain a work permit and stay in Canada.

She agreed to pay Jiatoo Immigration Consulting $15,000 for help to find a job and eventually receive assistance with her application for permanent residency in Canada, according to the retainer agreement signed by the client and the company.

Julie paid Jia $10,000 up front, and was to pay the remaining $5,000 at a later date.

“We are newcomers. We are not familiar with the immigration service or the working environment here in Canada,” she said when asked why people pay for immigration services.

“We need help. We need guidance and instruction. We need to consult people who know how to help us.”

Jiatoo owed 2 months’ rent

The landlord at 675 Pembina Highway got a call from an employee of Jiatoo Immigration on March 5, saying the office was empty.

“She said the place was cleaned out,” said property manager Eileen Gaynor.

CBC has not been able to reach Jia for comment. Texts and phone calls to the cellphone number he provided to clients, and which is listed on Jiatoo’s website, went unanswered.

CBC reporters also visited two properties associated with Jia through land titles. Both were abandoned. Stacks of newspapers were piled up outside the front door of one of the properties.

Gaynor said Jia still owed rent for February when he vanished. He had given her a cheque but it bounced. By March, he had closed his bank account so she could no longer collect on his debt.

Jia moved into the strip mall in April 2018, according to Gaynor. Company records show he is the director of Jiatoo Education Service Inc and also the president of Club Royale Immigration Inc.

Winnipeg police investigating

Julie said despite paying Jia, she got nothing in return. At first she wasn’t sure what to think, but after telling police what happened, the woman is confident she’s been duped.

“It’s official now, so we aren’t suspicious anymore. We are pretty sure that he’s a fraud,” she said.

For weeks, the woman kept trying to get ahold of Jia. He eventually phoned her husband, telling the couple to stop looking for him — or else.

“He said he knew us. He has got our information, and he [said] if we called police, it will have a bad influence on our immigration process,” Julie said.

After reporting Jia to police, Julie called the Canada Border Services Agency and Winnipeg-based immigration consultant Yu Wang — the licensed immigration consultant Jia worked under as an agent. Company records show that Wang is the director of Internationalized View Investments Consulting Ld.

In Canada, under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, advice or representation for immigration applications can only be provided by either a person licensed through the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) — the regulatory body for immigration consultants — or a lawyer in good standing (or in Quebec, a member in good standing with the Chambredesnotaires du Québec).

Winnipeg police confirmed that they received a report from the client and are investigating. The CBSA said it is not their practice to confirm or deny whether they have launched an investigation.

At this time no charges have been laid.

Not allowed to give immigration advice: ICCRC

Jia was not licensed to do immigration work, but had been hired to recruit clients for Wang.

Jia is not a member of the ICCRC, but was registered as an agent of Wang’s.

Agents are not allowed to provide any advice for immigration under the current ICCRC regulations, but those rules are frequently skirted, explained Xiang, who is a licensed consultant under the regulatory council.

Wang told CBC News he had no idea Jia was taking money from clients until a woman called him mid-March to allege the agent stole her money.

“He’s supposed to [be] recruiting clients for me,” Wang said. “I prepare the application to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.”

Wang said Jia informed him earlier this month he was moving to Vancouver, so Wang cancelled his agency agreement with him. The ICCRC confirmed the agreement was cancelled on March 15.

He says he has no idea where any money Jia collected would be and he does not have access to a client list. He said repeated messages to Jia about the money have gone unanswered.

“I didn’t see the money at all,” he told CBC.

Xiang said the likely reason more people have not reached out to Wang is because they do not understand that he is the consultant Jia worked under.

Julie said at first, she was afraid to speak out, but decided she couldn’t stay quiet and allow other people to be victimized.

“We trusted him,” she said.

“We want people [to know] what kind of a company Jiatoo is, and we want people to know what kind of person Zhihao Jia is — and to me personally, I want my money back.”

Julie said Jia came to Canada as a student in 2012, and took the same path as she did which makes his actions even more egregious.

“He studied here and graduated and [worked] here. So I think he should know what we think. He should know what we feel — what we feel as a newcomer here.”

200 cases reported each year: CBSA

The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council cannot legally prosecute or investigate allegations of fraud. It can discipline a consultant if an agent of a member acts unethically.

On first offence, the council member receives a written warning.

On second offence, the member is fined $100.

The CBC requested an interview with the ICCRC, which could not be accommodated in the time frame requested.

In a prepared statement, the regulatory council said it could not disclose information on any investigations that are currently underway.

But Xiang says he’s heard stories like Julie’s too many times.

“It has a very huge impact on the reputation of Canada’s immigration system,” he said.

“And there’s lack of trust between these newcomers and the various service providers in Canada.”

Almost 180 cases of suspected immigration-consultant offences are brought to the attention of the Canada Border Services Agency each year, according to data provided by the agency.

About 120 of those complaints involve unlicensed consultants.

Xiang says those cases aren’t just about money. A late application form or forms with missing errors can mean the applicant is denied a work permit or permanent residency, and the consequences can be deportation.

“We’re talking about people’s lives here,” he said.

Source: ‘He was supposed to help us’: Chinese immigrants out thousands after immigration agent disappears

Immigration consultant council suspends licence of former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito

Yet another one:

The federal council that regulates immigration consultants has temporarily suspended the licences of former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito and one of his sons, as it awaits the outcome of a Canada Border Services investigation of an alleged large-scale immigration fraud.

At a hearing Tuesday, Cindy Ramkissoon-Shears, an independent chairperson of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), determined there were reasonable grounds to conclude that allowing Benito and his son Charles to continue practising as consultants may cause harm to the public and could undermine the reputation of the profession.

The temporary suspensions mean the Benitos must have no further involvement with their clients. They must immediately make arrangements for another consultant or lawyer to assume their clients’ files.

Benito and his son did not respond to interview requests from CBC News on Tuesday.

The ICCRC is the national body that, by federal law, regulates all individuals, except lawyers, providing Canadian immigration, citizenship, and international-student advising services.

The council only seeks an interim suspension in exceptional circumstances, following a preliminary investigation, when it considers allegations so serious that allowing the consultant to continue to practise poses a potential risk to the public.

The hearing Tuesday heard evidence the ICCRC had received three complaints about the Benitos’ immigration consulting practice dating back to 2016.

But the council only began its investigation after it learned from CBC News on Aug. 16 that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had raided Benito’s home and office in late June as part of a major immigration fraud investigation.

Bundles of $100 bills seized

Court documents obtained by CBC News revealed the CBSA seized more than $250,000 in cash — mostly bundles of $100 bills stashed in two floor safes — as part of an investigation into what the agency alleges was a three-year immigration fraud scheme. The agency also seized numerous cash-filled payment envelopes bearing what appear to be the names of clients.

In search-warrant documents, the CBSA alleged that since Nov. 11, 2015, Carl Benito had counselled dozens of Filipino immigrants to improperly extend their stay in Alberta. The agency claimed Benito organized a scheme involving bogus applications for study and work-permit extensions.

The CBSA also alleges it found at least one Filipino immigrant, and possibly several more, working illegally for the Benitos’ consulting business.

The ICCRC had previously determined there was sufficient evidence to hold a hearing for  interim suspensions against Carl and Charles but there was not enough direct evidence to include a third son, Mark, in the proceedings.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Carl Benito’s lawyer, William Macintosh, argued the information contained in the CBSA search-warrant documents did not constitute sufficient evidence because it was essentially hearsay and, in some cases, double hearsay.

But a lawyer acting for the ICCRC said the information in the search-warrant documents, supplemented by similar information contained in the three previous complaints, created credible and compelling grounds to support the suspension of the Benitos.

“In my submission, there are more than reasonable grounds to believe the Benitos have been running a practice, the modus operandi of which was to perpetuate a fraud against the Canadian government,” lawyer Lisa Freeman told the hearing.

Carl Benito did not speak at Tuesday’s hearing. His son, Charles, who was self represented, told the hearing that he had done nothing wrong and was innocent.

None of the Benitos has been criminally charged and none of the allegations from the search-warrant documents has been proven in court. The CBSA has confirmed its investigation is ongoing.

Council investigation delayed

An ICCRC investigator admitted under questioning by Macintosh that the council’s investigation, and potentially a full disciplinary hearing, can’t continue until after the CBSA concludes its investigation.

The investigator conceded the council is wholly dependent on documents from the CBSA for its investigation, and it could take up to a year for the CBSA to conclude its investigation.

In an August interview, the council’s director of professional conduct told CBC News the investigation process can be complicated by the immigration status of individuals who may be critical witnesses in a disciplinary hearing.

Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council director of professional conduct Michael Huynh says the investigation process can be complicated by the immigration status of people who might be critical witnesses in a disciplinary hearing.

“Because of the nature of the services members provide — that is, the members of the ICCRC — a lot of the complainants sometimes are of precarious status,” Michael Huynh said. “So they might not be willing to, after filing the complaint, testify, in which case it gets a little harder for us to procure the evidence necessary to prove our case.”

Huynh said there are also situations where a complainant may have been “complicit” in the immigration consultant’s activities, which may make them reluctant to testify for fear of compromising their status.

Benito was elected to the Alberta legislature in 2008. He became an immigration consultant after losing the Progressive Conservative nomination in 2012.

On websites and Facebook pages filled with photos of beaming clients, “Kuya Carl” (Brother Carl) claims he can help fellow Filipino immigrants secure residency, study permits, and work permits.

“Carl is simply the best in immigration consulting in Edmonton,” one of his websites reads.

In an article recently published in a local Filipino newspaper, and republished on his immigration firm’s website, Benito claimed he was a victim of “sensationalized” journalism.

“We have several clients who are our direct witnesses on how Triple Maple Leaf Canada and Carl Benito conducts his Consulting Services with utmost transparency and within legal bounds and following the guidelines as set by Immigration Canada,” Benito wrote in the article.

Source: Immigration consultant council suspends licence of former Edmonton MLA Carl Benito

Thousands Could Be Deported As Government Targets Asylum Mills’ Clients

Similar to the aftermath of mass fraud in Canada (Special report: how Canadian immigration fraud saw 860 rich Chinese blacklisted):

NPR’s Planet Money has learned that more than 13,500 immigrants, mostly Chinese, who were granted asylum status years ago by the U.S. government, are facing possible deportation.

As the Trump administration turns away asylum-seekers at the border under more restrictive guidance issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Executive Office for Immigration Review are considering stripping asylum status from immigrants who won it years ago.

Immigration officials are moving against these immigrants in a sweeping review that federal authorities say is related to a 2012 investigation into asylum mills. During that probe, federal prosecutors in New York rounded up 30 immigration lawyers, paralegals and interpreters who had helped immigrants fraudulently obtain asylum in Manhattan’s Chinatown and in Flushing, Queens. The case was dubbed Operation Fiction Writer.

The federal government says the people convicted during Operation Fiction Writer had helped more than 3,500 immigrants, most of them Chinese, win asylum. Authorities accused them of dumping boilerplate language in stories of persecution, coaching clients to memorize and recite fictitious details to asylum officers, and fabricating documents to buttress the fake asylum claims.

In the years after the prosecutions, immigration officials have been reviewing those asylum cases to determine which clients lied on their asylum applications and therefore should be deported.

One of those rounded up during Operation Fiction Writer cooperated with authorities on the investigation. The man, who asked that we call him Lawrence, helped the government between 2011 and 2014. He says that he worked for lawyers who reassured their clients that they would be fine if they fabricated their claims of persecution in China and that those clients were just heeding legal advice.

He is in hiding now because of the government’s escalating demands that he continue cooperating — this time against those former clients. Planet Money spoke with him on Skype but does not know his exact location.

Lawrence, a Chinese immigrant himself, says the government pressured him in the past couple of years to help review asylum cases he may have worked on as an employee at more than one law firm. He helped with that effort initially but has backed away as the number of people the government is targeting has skyrocketed.

Lawrence says that he didn’t have a problem helping law enforcement arrest lawyers in 2012, but that he feels very different about helping law enforcement punish immigrants years after they won asylum.

“Because targets are different,” he says. “Those Chinese immigrants — those clients … their attorney just tell lie to them, to do that.”

The way Lawrence tells it, he is fighting a larger battle now against government agencies that are mixing up what is legal with what is right. He wants no part in helping the government use the letter of the law to strip asylum from people who won it years ago — even if that means he has to remain in hiding.

Lawrence says his disappearance will make it much harder for immigration officials to possibly deport thousands more people back to China, a country that he says does not treat people who had sought asylum kindly.

An unprecedented review

In a written statement, USCIS confirmed the substance of Lawrence’s story — that immigration officials are now reviewing 3,500 asylum cases handled years ago by the people convicted during Operation Fiction Writer. Immigration authorities also confirm that they are reviewing the asylum cases of more than 10,000 family members who were granted what is called “derivative asylum status.”

Therefore, in total, more than 13,500 immigrants who were granted asylum before December 2012 could lose it.

At the time the prosecution was announced in 2012, officials in the Obama administration, including then-U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, decided not to criminally prosecute any clients.

Today, “USCIS, ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor and the Executive Office of Immigration Review are reviewing these cases to maintain the integrity in our nation’s asylum system and to ensure that the original asylum grant was lawfully obtained,” says Katherine Tichacek, a spokeswoman for USCIS, in a written statement.

It isn’t unusual for immigration officials to review the case of a former client whose lawyer has been convicted of asylum fraud. But immigration lawyers say they have never seen officials systematically review old asylum cases on a scale like this in ICE’s history.

It is hard to say exactly how many of the cases handled by the guilty lawyers were in fact fraudulent. Fact-checking each requires confirming claims and stories that allegedly happened years ago, in other countries with separate legal systems.

Tichacek explained that when an old asylum case is flagged during this review for potential fraud, lawyers at ICE will file a motion to reopen the case with the Executive Office of Immigration Review. If an immigration judge grants the motion, the asylee is granted a hearing. The judge will then reaffirm the grant of asylum or terminate asylum status.

“The agencies are reviewing each case file and making lawful determinations in accordance with due process of law,” says Tichacek.

Someone whose case is “reopened” can pay thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend against the allegations, even if there was no fraud.

An immigrant’s struggle in New York — and an opportunity

In July 2005, Lawrence boarded a plane from China to New York City. In his mind back then, there was no question how his new life in America would turn out. “I think I would become millionaire … or something like that,” he says. “I always quite have a lot of confidence in myself.”

But Lawrence remembers his first year in the U.S. as a horrible year. He fell into a miserable string of odd jobs working illegally in the Flushing area — at a window and door company, at a glass factory and elsewhere.

Then in January 2007, he saw an ad in the paper: An immigration law office right next to Chinatown needed a Chinese translator. He faxed his résumé over, and they called him up immediately to ask him when he could start.

It turned out that the tiny law office specialized in asylum cases. Lawrence soon would learn that he had dropped into a world with huge stakes.

Asylum is a fast, direct path to staying in the country. It is hard to win, but if you do, you get immediate permission to work. You’re also eligible for a green card within a year — and then citizenship five years after that.

For years, the Chinese have won more asylum cases than immigrants from any other country. About 22 percent of the 20,455 individuals granted asylum in 2016 were Chinese immigrants, according to the most recent figures from USCIS. The next largest group is immigrants from El Salvador (10 percent) and then immigrants from Guatemala (about 9 percent).

The lawyer who ran the immigration office Lawrence joined back in 2007 was named Ken Giles. Lawrence says Giles’ law office had only three desks, crammed into a tiny room. Everything that happened, Lawrence says, happened out in the open.

“I realized this is open secret in Chinese immigrant community … many Chinese people making asylum fraud,” he says.

According to Lawrence, a client would walk in and tell the office manager that he or she would like to try for asylum because that is what a friend or relative suggested.

“The office manager would talk to the client about what kind of claim they should pursue and what kind of story they should make up, what kind of fake document they should provide,” says Lawrence. “And [the manager] made up those stories. She wrote them down and asked those client to copy it in their own words.”

One reason Chinese immigrants have been successful at winning asylum is because the most common stories submitted by Chinese applicants fit neatly into the criteria asylum officers and immigration judges use to grant asylum.

In the U.S., before you can get asylum, the government wants to hear a story from you — a story about “a well-founded fear of persecution.” That persecution has to be based on your race, religion or political opinion, or on some “particular social group” you belong to — and it has to have been targeted specifically against you.

Central American immigrants have had a tougher time for years getting asylum based on claims that they are fleeing criminal gang violence because it’s harder to prove that a threat is targeted or that the government is doing nothing to stop it. Chinese immigrants don’t have that problem — their most common asylum stories involve being targeted by the government.

The claims have fallen into three buckets: persecution under the country’s family planning policies, persecution by the government based on the person’s religion — usually Christianity or their membership in the spiritual sect Falun Gong — or persecution by the government based on the person’s activism in favor of democracy.

Inside the asylum mills

The way Lawrence tells it, he watched and learned the ins and outs of the asylum fraud business in Ken Giles’ office. About a year and a half later, he says he ended up at an even bigger operation: A law firm run by a woman named Feng Ling Liu.

Like Ken Giles, Lawrence says, she focused almost exclusively on asylum cases. Lawrence compared the office to a factory, with each worker having a designated task, whether it be translating, coaching or story-writing.

Lawrence says he started as a story writer at Feng Ling Liu’s firm. He would begin with certain details about a client that were actually true and weave them into a larger drama of government persecution. Lawrence learned that the stories had to be vivid and tell tales of great suffering. And only certain kinds of suffering, the kind that checked off the correct boxes, would do: targeted persecution, by the government, that was based on religion, politics or China’s family planning policy.

Lawrence estimates he wrote 500 to 600 fake stories for clients over the course of a couple of years. He compiled a massive study guide for coaches to use with clients. And he made the law firm’s interpreters collect field data for the guide — profiling asylum officers by what the kinds of questions they tended to ask and the answers they seemed to prefer.

Lawrence says he started rationalizing his behavior at this point: “Sometime I justify in this way: I say, ‘Okay, I’m helping people. I’m helping those lower-class Chinese people to get their status in United States. They don’t really commit crime. … What they want, just find a job here and work in the Chinese restaurant.’ ”

Around November 2010, Feng Ling Liu’s office fired Lawrence. He says they were tired of dealing with his part-time schedule. So a few months later, Lawrence found himself back at Ken Giles’ office, helping out with a few asylum cases.

It was spring 2011. That was when Lawrence met Zhenyi Li, an immigrant who had run out of ways to stay in the U.S. when her aunt told her, “go do asylum.”

“It felt like people all around me were doing it — people I worked with, people in my circles,” says Li. “From what I could tell, applying for asylum to stay in this country was just a normal thing to do.”

To Lawrence, Li was like a jackpot client. She was young, 29, and college-educated. Also Li had chosen to get an abortion back in China and had gone to church occasionally while growing up.

These were useful facts Lawrence could play with in her application. Within days, he had crafted a lurid asylum story for Li, recounting a brutal abortion forced by the Chinese government and a violent crackdown on Li’s Christianity.

Today, when Lawrence revisits this story, he starts laughing.

“I wrote so many ridiculous cases on daily basis,” he says. “For those asylum officers and those immigration judge, they are buried by this kind of fake story every day, so they don’t know what real story should be looking like.”

When Li first read the story, she wanted to laugh. “I thought, ‘This isn’t my story. It was not me,’ ” she says. “It was so exaggerated. So made-up. This was not my life.”

Li was granted asylum on June 28, 2011, on her first try.

Investigators make their pitch

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Lawrence got a phone call from the FBI. He would soon learn, he says, that the FBI had been tailing him for more than a year. The agents told him that a big raid was coming and that there was nothing Lawrence could do to stop it. They told him he could either join his colleagues in prison, or he could help the FBI.

He says he agreed to cooperate immediately.

“I just felt so depressed for what I did for the last couple years,” he says. “And then I all of sudden find, find a chance to tell everything. To outburst it.”

He gave the bureau a detailed picture of all the people involved in pumping out fraudulent asylum applications in Chinatown and Flushing. He pored over photo books to identify suspects. He turned over his study guide, which plainly laid out every step of the fraud from story-writing to evidence-fabrication to interview prep.

He went back into the asylum mills wearing a hidden camera, making 16 secret recordings in all. His goal was to catch as many people as possible. One of his first targets was Ken Giles. And Lawrence helped flip three more people who became cooperating witnesses.

One of them was Li, who says the agents offered her a deal.

“They said that they wouldn’t prosecute me if I cooperated. And they offered to help me with immigration. They said they would tell immigration officials I helped the FBI,” says Li. “They said I might not be better off if I cooperated, but that I certainly wouldn’t be worse off.”

In 2014, Feng Ling Liu was tried and found guilty of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud. She could not be reached for comment. Ken Giles pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit immigration fraud and was sentenced to two years in prison.

In a recent interview, Giles maintains he never advised a client to lie on an asylum application.

“I never told anybody to pretend to be anything. Never,” says Giles. “That’s a lie. That is a lie.”

If there was coaching by anyone else in his office, Giles says he wouldn’t know because he doesn’t speak Chinese. But he says he pleaded guilty because he felt like he had no choice.

As for Lawrence, he discovered that cooperating witnesses don’t get to just start over.

The federal government decided to charge him with three felonies — two counts of immigration fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit immigration fraud — which meant it would be much harder for him to ever become a U.S. citizen. He faced a maximum of 25 years in prison, but the judge gave him credit for his cooperation and he was sentenced to just six months probation.

Source: Thousands Could Be Deported As Government Targets Asylum Mills’ Clients