Douglas Todd: Canadian officials battle dozens of migration scams

Good overview of the major scams. Thanks again to Richard Kurland for making the ATIP request:

Canadian immigration officials around the world face a wave of immigration scams.

Many of the schemes feature people claiming to be in marriages that turn out to be phoney. Others involve fraudulent letters about escorting Saudi Arabian princesses, counterfeit passports and forged job offers, or people pretending to be journalists.

An internal Global Affairs Department document shows Canadian consular and customs officials invited anti-fraud experts from European countries to a meeting to learn about the wide range of inventive scams that people are using to try to emigrate to Canada and other Western nations.

The federal email correspondence came to light in the same month that the federal NDP immigration critic, Jenny Kwan, criticized Canadian immigration officials for asking a couple “offensive and insulting” questions, which were aimed at determining if a Pakistani woman was in a bona fide marriage with her male sponsor, who had been in Canada for 13 years.

It was “completely inappropriate” for immigration officials to note the female applicant for Canadian permanent resident status is three years older than her spouse, said Kwan, the MP for Vancouver East. She called on Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to look into what she calls a “systemic” problem with the way staff handle the popular spousal-sponsorship program.

However, a detailed email from a senior official at Global Affairs, which was obtained through an access to information request, indicates that fake marriages are among the most common fraudulent methods used to obtain permanent resident status in Canada.

The email, sent last year to about 50 Canadian officials after a meeting in Cairo, describes a common deception in which Arabic couples enter into so-called “Urfi marriages,” which are customary under Islamic law but not recognized by the Egyptian government. Urfi marriages are often for convenience, including to travel or migrate. In Sudan, meanwhile, many officials are giving out suspicious marriage documents to citizens of other African nations.

The widespread problem posed by fake marriages was confronted in 2013 by then-immigration minister Jason Kenney, who began a crackdown on “marriages of convenience,” which included a public video featuring real victims of marriage-migration scams. The federal Liberals continue to use videos to warn people against being abused by a marriage scheme, but the government has eased some rules for Canadian spouses sponsoring foreign nationals.

With Gallup pollsters finding that roughly 45 million people around the globe want to move to Canada, another growing scam has been emerging in India, where people are posting newspaper ads that seek “marriage” with a young person who has been accepted as one of this nation’s 500,000 international students.

The Global Affairs email shows that Canadian officials uncovered other creative schemes, one of which they called “the prince or princess scam.”

At their meeting in Cairo, they found seven cases of married Egyptian or Sudanese males “applying for a visitor visa to accompany a prince or princess of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on their visit to Canada. The applicants were to serve as personal maids, cooks, drivers or waiters.” The university-educated applicants provided fake letters, purportedly written on the letterhead of Saudi royal families.

A different ruse, says the Global Affairs email, is to apply to enter other countries as journalists. Another is for an applicant to buy a rundown house in a Western country, then claim they require a visa to work on it. In addition, corrupt officials in Africa, including clergy,  are issuing fake birth certificates. Forged passports and bank statements are also common. So is buying fake jobs. And a new approach is to present immigration officials with fraudulent invitation letters to pilot-training schools in Canada.

In response to Postmedia questions, Kwan acknowledged that marriage and other migration frauds exist, adding that “the overwhelming majority of interactions” that Canada’s immigration and border officials “have with people are done with a commendable level of expertise and professionalism.”

However, Kwan said an “inappropriate line of questioning can have serious impacts for genuine families.” The border official’s initial suggestion that the Pakistani couple did not appear “well matched,” in part because she was older, would not have been asked, Kwan said, of Prince Harry, 33, and his new wife, the Duchess of Sussex, 36.

Even though the Pakistani-Canadian husband’s sponsorship of a wife in Pakistan was approved, Kwan emphasized that border officials should never deal in “outdated stereotypes” about traditional foreign cultures. She wants immigration officials to take “cultural sensitivity training.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland, who obtained the internal Global Affairs email under an access to information request for his newsletter, Lexbase, said it’s legitimate for the NDP’s immigration critic to “push back” as a check on the power of Canada’s visa officers.

But Kurland also recommends Kwan take what he called “the cure.” That is, Kurland suggested it would be beneficial if she learned more about the many kinds of “real cases” that Canadian anti-fraud units are dealing with in places such as Delhi or Beijing.

“While the overwhelming majority of cases are genuine, we must be vigilant to prevent that small number of bad cases becoming a big number of bad cases. It is a difficult challenge that seasoned visa officers lose sleep over. The stakes are high (for would-be immigrants}. And for Canada.”

Source: Douglas Todd: Canadian officials battle dozens of migration scams

Douglas Todd: Explosive B.C. court case details seven migration scams

Another good article by Todd, covering the different scams uncovered by this case:

A shocking B.C. Supreme Court case that pitted two rich families from China against each other provides grim revelations about the kind of migration, tax, and real-estate scams regularly occurring in Metro Vancouver and beyond.

Immigration and tax lawyers are stunned that the Fu and Zhu families became embroiled in a lengthy civil suit over three multi-million dollar houses they purchased together in Vancouver, since their case provides evidence of their illicit schemes around real estate, tax avoidance and immigration.

“This case provides unusually candid insight into what those who would abuse our immigration and real-estate systems really think in their own words about their true motives for seeking access to Canada and our real estate,” said Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman.

David Lesperance, a Toronto-based immigration and tax lawyer, said: “The fact that two different parties … would choose to fully expose their transgressions in a public forum shows either blinding ignorance, or complacency about the ramifications of that exposure, given the longtime lack of enforcement of immigration and tax laws in Canada.”

While both specialists believe the Fu versus Zhu case justifies investigation by the Canadian Revenue Agency, the Canada Border Services Agency and other enforcement bodies, they say the dispute between the families indirectly illustrates the range of common, mostly unpunished migration and real-estate scams occurring in Canada.

Here are seven migration-related subterfuges the case exposes:

1. Not declaring full worldwide income to Canadian tax officials

Judge Susan Griffin scoffed at one family’s breadwinner, Guoqing Fu, for declaring to the Canadian Revenue Agency he had a worldwide income of only $97.11.

“This was an incredible assertion, given the fact he owns one of the top 10 textile manufacturing and distribution companies” in China’s biggest production zone, said Griffin.

The immigration specialists say it’s commonplace for wealthy foreign real-estate investors to falsely claim to tax authorities they earn much less than they do. It’s typically done in an attempt, they say, to avoid income taxes in Canada, and to make one’s family eligible for welfare and other taxpayer-financed subsidies.

But the Fu family may have gone too far, says Lesperance. “I think that clearly an investigation by Canada Revenue Agency is in order. (Depending on the results) the CRA could definitely ask the Crown to proceed with a criminal tax evasion charge, which could result in a 200-per-cent-of-tax-evaded penalty, plus up to five years imprisonment.”

2. Pretending to spend time in Canada to meet residency requirements

Chunquin Zhou referred to one of her Vancouver luxury houses as “immigration jail,” a term often adopted by well-off would-be migrants.

She used the phrase in reference to what she considered the hardship inherent in Ottawa’s requirement that would-be immigrants physically spend two years out of five in Canada before obtaining citizenship.

The judge also found her son, Xiao Feng Fu, was “sophisticated in lying, including in scheming to deceive Canadians immigration authorities that he could maintain permanent residency status without spending the necessary days residing in Canada.”

The family members’ attempts to pretend they were living in Canada while spending time offshore echo a technique used in a widespread scam orchestrated up until 2015 by Richmond resident Xun Wang, who hauled in $10 million over eight years by producing altered Chinese passports and fraudulent identities for up to 1,200 clients.

3. Hiding real real-estate ownership

The Fu and Zhu families were well versed in how to avoid taxes on the sale of their houses by making false claims about the actual owners.

One common technique that wealthy foreign nationals use to avoid or evade paying capital gains tax in Canada is by putting dwellings in the names of children or spouses who appear to be permanent residents of Canada, and who appear, at least on paper, to occupy the houses.

4. Lack of regulation of real-estate agents

The son’s phoney claims about spending time in Canada were coordinated by the families’ realtor, identified only as “Mr. Gu.” The realtor assisted the son by helping provide false pay cheques, false employment records and false verbal claims about losing his permanent-resident card while in China.

“The new B.C. real estate regulator may want to invite Mr. Gu to a session over his behaviour,” said Hyman, referring to the way B.C.’s real-estate regulation was recently reformed following persistent complaints it was failing to discipline rogue realtors.

5. Illicitly laundering money out of China

The Fu versus Zhu case baldly highlights the two families’ efforts to break the laws of China, which is increasingly placing tighter restrictions on the amount of money it allows to leave the economic powerhouse.

The Fu family, to avoid detection, used their employees on 21 occasions to transfer lump sums just under China’s restriction against removing more than $50,000 US a year from the country.

The judge noted the parties acknowledged the steps were taken to evade China’s currency controls, as well as its restrictions on how many dwellings they could own.

The Fu and Zhu families’ efforts to illegally remove at least $1 million US from China corresponds to similar attempts made by Anita Wang and other families from China, who the B.C. Supreme Court found in early January illicitly laundered $750,000 to buy a property in Port Coquitlam.

6. Misusing provincial migration programs

The two families from China initially started their application process to move to and invest in Canada by going through the provincial nominee programs of Prince Edward Island and Manitoba, jurisdictions which lack the popularity of Metro Vancouver and Toronto for migrants.

Neither family showed any intention of settling in those provinces, since they immediately put all their efforts into investing in residential real estate on the west side of Vancouver.

7. Exploiting Canadian courts, with costly trials

Postmedia reporter Sam Cooper is among the journalists who are increasingly covering lengthy cases involving foreign nationals who use Canadian civil courts to solve their own trans-national legal wrangles.

But, as Hyman says, it costs Canadian taxpayers a great deal to provide the judges, buildings and legal staff to run the court system, even when the losing side sometimes has to contribute to opponents’ lawyers’ fees.

“The bitterest irony in all this is that those who would so brazenly thwart our laws with such perceived impunity, for personal gain, would turn to our taxpayer-funded legal system for recourse. Chutzpah doesn’t begin to describe the parties’ conduct,” said Hyman.

Despite the conclusion of the Fu versus Zhu civil case, Hyman noted the family members involved “appear to continue to have access to Canada.”

via Douglas Todd: Explosive B.C. court case details seven migration scams | Vancouver Sun