Job program fuels fraud fears
Highly touted provincial initiative that fast-tracks skilled immigrants is being abused, report says
Oct 29, 2007 04:30 AM
The Toronto Star
A highly touted immigration program that allows provinces to hand-pick skilled immigrants to meet their labour needs is also exposing Canada to a high risk of fraud, according to an internal report obtained by the Star.
The Provincial Nominee Program gives provinces discretion to pre-select investors, entrepreneurs and skilled workers with job offers for fast-track processing, dramatically cutting the wait to immigrate from as long as five years to just a few months.
“Unfortunately, PNP applications continue to be our most time consuming in terms of fraud, thus having a negative impact on processing times,” says the Canadian visa office in Beijing in an internal report to the immigration department.
“Another important issue,” it adds, “is the problem of so called `economic fugitives.' The business caseload is typically comprised of rich applicants claiming to have made very large sums of money … It has proven very difficult under those circumstances to differentiate between the legitimate, if unusually fortunate, businessman and those who may have obtained their wealth improperly.”
It's not clear how many “nominees” may actually have succeeded in getting to Canada fraudulently, but more than 95 per cent of last year's crop were approved by federal immigration officials.
Nominee programs have become vital in the booming Western provinces, which face a serious shortage of skilled workers and investors and are eager to increase their quotas. Ontario launched a pilot program in May, with plans to nominate 450 skilled workers and 50 entrepreneurs/investors in its first year.
The number of newcomers arriving through such programs has tripled in three years, from 4,400 in 2003 to more than 13,300 last year.
Sources say visa offices where fraudulent applications have become a big problem include Beijing, New Delhi, Islamabad and Kiev.
“Although the attraction of Canada for qualified skilled workers has diminished, strong push factors remain for those whom China's economic progress has not brought substantial gains,” says the Beijing report.
“Consequently the level of fraud … remains high. Organized fraud is endemic in the PNP program and marriages with Canadians and permanent residents are openly advertised as a means of gaining entry to Canada.”
Toronto immigration consultant Ron Guan says most frauds involve fake documents, primarily because Canadian officials rely on China's own public notary office to verify their authenticity.
“I've seen unqualified people being accepted and well-qualified people being rejected by the PNP program. There have been nominee candidates who use the orientation opportunity to enter Canada and file refugee claims,” notes Guan, who has been a consultant for 17 years and has two offices in China.
“The PNP is a great program,” he adds, “but the provinces have a lower par than the federal officials and they count on the feds to scrutinize the candidates who appear to fit the needs. They need to communicate better and must always ask candidates for original documents, not just the notarized copies.”
First introduced in Manitoba in 1998 as a way of drawing immigrants to settle outside the usual gateway cities, the program involves a two-step process. Applicants must pass provincial background and qualification screening before proceeding to the federal medical, security and criminal clearances overseas.
“To immigrate to Canada through the federal program, you have to get 67 points to qualify. What happens is, for a lot of people, the only way to come in is through the PNP program. And unfortunately, it also attracts fraudsters,” explains Quebec immigration lawyer Richard Kurland. “The program allows construction workers, truck drivers and labourers to come in, but how do you assess those skills and qualifications?”
Administrators of Ontario's PNP program say they have found no evidence of attempted fraud and are pleased with the quality of the applications. The program has several “anti-fraud” components:
Special non-copy paper on which nomination certificates and pre-screen approval forms are printed.
Affidavits provided by both the employer and nominee to reduce misrepresentation or fraud.
A stipulation that providing false or misleading information will result in an applicant being refused and disqualified permanently.
“We are confident that we have the necessary anti-fraud safeguards in place to protect the integrity of our pilot PNP program,” says program manager Alan Diner. British Columbia's seven-year-old program processes skilled workers in four months and entrepreneurs within 18 months. Program manager Michael Chew says his 16-member staff's strict front-end screening helps drive up approval rates.
“The key is to deal with the credible employers only,” he notes. “To qualify for the program, an employer must have a good track record and a minimum of five employees. It has to be in operation for at least one year.”
Manitoba's nominee program is the centrepiece of its strategy to reverse its declining economic and population growth. It accepted 6,600 nominees last year.
These workers have helped meet needs in agriculture, construction and manufacturing, and eased shortages of meat-cutters and truck drivers.
“Frauds are usually associated with paid third-party representatives.
“To avoid frauds, (our staff) refuse to deal with them. You have to pick your source countries carefully and avoid places that are known for a high level of fraudulent activities,” explains Ben Rempel, Manitoba's assistant deputy minister of labour and immigration.
Top 10 source countries of provincial nominees in 2006 and their application rejection rates:
1. Philippines: 887 (2 per cent)
2. China: 549 (5 per cent)
3. Korea: 492 (7 per cent)
4. Germany: 462 (0 per cent)
5. United Kingdom: 461 (1 per cent)
6. India: 393 (21 per cent)
7. United States: 191 (3 per cent)
8. South Africa: 156 (0 per cent)
9. Israel: 134 (3 per cent)
10. Iran: 119 (0 per cent)
Overseas Canadian visa offices are responsible for medical, security and criminal clearances on candidates nominated by the provinces.
Source: Citizenship and Immigration Canada