Student visa fraud rampant
Foreign students face no risk of deportation if they don't show up for class, report finds
Published: Thursday, October 02, 2008
VANCOUVER – Canada places so few restrictions on foreign students and the schools that attract them that it has left the student-visa system open to widespread abuse and fraud, according to an internal government review obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
Canada's rules are so lax, the review notes, that foreign students can't be deported even if they never show up for class.
“There is no requirement for [foreign] students to actually attend classes despite the fact they are in Canada to study,” the report said.
“Students must only show the 'intent' to study in Canada.”
According to the review, Canada's soft approach is in stark contrast to those of other countries – including the United States and Australia – that actively monitor students once they arrive.
Canada is also one of the few countries that grant permits to attend virtually any institution, whether it's a public university or a private, unregulated English-as- a-second-language school.
In contrast, the U.S., Australia, France and the United Kingdom permit only certain schools to accept foreign students.
“Other … countries are more focused on ensuring that institutions adhere to strict guidelines focused on maintaining the integrity of international student programs,” the report said.
Immigration Minister Diane Finley ordered the review in August 2007 after The Sun reported on widespread student-visa fraud in B.C.
The articles, based on internal documents from the Canada Border Services Agency, revealed that fraud was so rampant in this province that the CBSA was able to investigate only about five per cent of the hundreds of alleged fraud cases it knew about.
The CBSA documents also showed that some bogus students who came to B.C. became involved in Asian organized crime, drug trafficking, prostitution and human smuggling.
The Sun recently obtained a draft copy of the government's student-visa review through an access-to-information request.
The review noted because of the problems, Canada's student-visa system “not only poses a threat to the integrity of the student program, it can affect Canada's reputation as a provider of quality education and pose risks to national safety and security.”
According to the review, the number of foreign students living in Canada has more than doubled over the past decade, from 71,000 in 1997 to 157,000 in 2006.
B.C. alone had 44,799 foreign students as of 2006, second-highest after Ontario at 58,308.
Overall, 80 per cent of those who apply to Canada for a study permit get one – including 93 per cent of those from Korea and 99 per cent from Taiwan.
China and India have lower acceptance rates, but Canada still accepts about three-quarters of applicants from those countries.
The review said that since 2002, Canada has adopted an increasingly “facilitative” approach to foreign students – no longer requiring students to attend class, making it easier to extend the length of study permits and allowing students to work for up to two years after they complete their studies.
“While these changes have made the program more attractive to genuine students, it also has opened up the opportunity for non-genuine students to use the study permit as a means to secure work in Canada,” the review found. “It has also opened up an avenue for individuals who are seeking general entry into Canada for an extended period of time to do so under the guise of being a student.”
Just this past summer, four Chinese teenagers studying English at BCC Academy in Vancouver were reported missing by their home-stay family.
The case was originally investigated by the police but later handed over to the CBSA after suspicions arose the students had used their study permits to fraudulently enter Canada.
According to the government's review, the student-visa system is plagued both by bogus students with no intention of studying and by bogus schools that operate as “sophisticated visa mills.”
The review stated both types of fraud are facilitated by shady recruiters and consultants who connect immigrants to schools and often provide forged academic documents.
In some cases, the review noted, foreign students actually believe a visa mill is a legitimate school until they arrive and realize they've been conned.
And because many private schools – in particular those with ESL programs – are not regulated by the provinces, conned students have little or no recourse.
The review includes several recommendations for how the student-visa system can be reformed, but they were deleted from the copy of the report released to The Sun.
Finley's staff said she was campaigning Wednesday and unavailable for comment.
Ujjal Dosanjh, the Liberal incumbent in Vancouver South, said reforms need to be made to the student-visa system – starting with requiring foreign students to attend class.
“It is not appropriate for us to be saying we are allowing in international students, yet they have no obligation to go to school,” he said. “I just find that incomprehensible.”
Dosanjh said provincial governments also need to do a better job of regulating and monitoring the schools that foreign students attend.
Bill Siksay, the NDP incumbent in Burnaby-Douglas, said the CBSA needs more staff to investigate student-visa fraud.
“For our immigration system to have integrity, we have to pay attention to enforcement,” he said. “We want to make sure those students are legitimate.”
(To read background documents related to this story, check out The Vancouver Sun's Paper Trail blog at vancouversun.com/papertrail/)