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Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

What’s a Visa Officer to do?

So the Toronto Star reports (Nov 9) that an Indian Punjabi immigration/education agent collects hundreds of thousands of dollars facilitating hundreds of admissions to Canadian colleges where almost all the Study Permit (visa) applications are fraudulent. What’s new?

A publicly funded community college in northern Ontario responds to the report saying it’s not to blame for working with the allegedly crooked consultant in issuing hundreds of admission letters for which almost all are refused visas. Again, nothing new here. Publicly funded colleges have been claiming for years that they don’t decide on visas, so they can’t be faulted for bogus applicants. They say it’s the student’s responsibility to apply honestly, and it’s up to the Visa Officer to decide. And by the way, the College would never admit accountability for hiring the crooks in the first place! Nor for offering hundreds of admission letters to frauds, which is handing a de facto invitation to Canada to someone intent on breaking the law.

Nope. Instead they rant about refusals at Visa Offices. Three years ago when BC Colleges came to India to complain that their Punjabi applicants were being denied fair access to Canada, the Visa Officer told them frankly that they have engaged with crooks and people smugglers and the bulk of their applicants were bogus. It was a fact, but the Colleges screamed it was a racist comment (in fact the colleges were entirely unjustified in making their allegations. The reality is a dark truth the Chandigarh Visa Office deals with daily). But Canadian governments moved to appease the Colleges and quiet the claims of prejudice, always a peril for politicians. Two years later the Colleges got a special student visa allowance, driving more applications, more admissions, more Colleges contracting with crooks, and the result is student visa fraud in Punjab has doubled. The Toronto Star could report daily for a month. There’s no shortage of stories on visa fraud.

Canada’s Consulate in the Punjab is pressing Indian authorities to clamp down on crooked education/immigration agents. That’s not likely to be heeded in a place where I just had a cop stop our car two weeks ago in Chandigarh for a seat belt violation which is a ten dollar fine, and demanded 200 dollars from us.

Corrupt officials are so endemic in India, at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in Delhi, it’s on the record that hundreds of millions of dollars were misappropriated by Indian officials, with little hope of returning the funds to the public purse. There is so little accountability.

In Canada, it’s just as unlikely to have Canadian institutions take responsibility for their own actions. Much easier for everyone to deflect blame and take cheap, unfair and wrongly placed shots at an easy target, the Visa Officer.

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About Mel

Mel has consulted universities, colleges, governmental and non-governmental organizations in the field of international education since 1997. He is co-founder of Higher-Edge, the parent of Overseas, Overwhelmed, and a director of the Canadian University Application Centre. He is a former award-winning CBC reporter and holds a Masters degree from Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism.

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