Canada enlists private company to process immigration visas in China
Globe and Mail
June 11, 2008 at 5:16 AM EDT
OTTAWA A private company has been authorized to provide clerical support for the processing of Canadian immigration visas in China, a move that immigration experts in this country say could put sensitive information about applicants in the hands of the Chinese government.
“All companies in China must be licensed by the Government of China,” said John Ryan, an immigration consultant in Toronto.
“In the case of immigration companies, they must apply and receive a licence from the Public Security Ministry in China. The licences themselves are administered by the local public security police.”
VFS Global, an international company based in India, has been authorized to take applications for all categories of temporary visas at its Canada Visa Application Centres in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing. Its website indicates it will also help process permanent travel documents.
Although the Canadian embassy makes the final decision about acceptance, VFS collects and processes information about applicants and arranges interviews with embassy staff.
The Canadian government has essentially outsourced the clerical work involved in processing applications, Mr. Ryan said. VFS, which is operating in conjunction with a Chinese company, charges about $35 for the service, which is provided for free by the embassy.
But the extra cost is a minor concern compared with possible security ramifications, Mr. Ryan said.
Mr. Ryan worked as an immigration consultant in China for nine years and was required to be licensed by the Public Security Bureau, whose officials could search his office at any time.
“I can tell you the major concern that my clients had,” he said, “was that their information was going to be kept confidential between them and the Canadian government – not them, the government and the Chinese government.”
The VFS website says: “Canada Visa Application Centre takes every reasonable precaution while handling the documents of applicants. However, [it] shall not be responsible in any manner whatsoever to the applicant for any documents which are lost in transit by accident, theft, natural calamities (act of God) or any other reason outside the control of, or not arising out of a willful default of Canada Visa Application Centre.”
Karen Shadd-Evelyn, a spokeswoman for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said in an e-mail yesterday that prospective immigrants can still apply at the Canadian government visa office. The other centres allow applicants to apply at a location that may be closer to their home, she said.
When choosing a service provider, Ms. Shadd-Evelyn said, security is obviously a primary consideration and that includes protecting the privacy of applicants. She pointed out that VFS provides services in China for the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Belgium, India and France.
The Canadian government has also farmed out clerical services for immigrants in several other countries.
But Mr. Ryan said the Chinese situation is different “simply because of the alleged human-rights abuses.”
If, for instance, a Canadian citizen wants to sponsor a spouse who is a member of the Falun Gong, a religious group that has faced persecution in China, the application could be a signal to the Chinese government that the person intended to emigrate, Mr. Ryan said.
VFS Global could not be reached for comment yesterday.