Missing students may be here illegally
Four Chinese youths could have used student visas to gain entry into Canada or the U.S.
Mary Frances Hill
Published: Friday, September 05, 2008
VANCOUVER – An investigation into the disappearance of four Chinese students from an English language school in July has been moved from the Vancouver Police Department to the Canada Border Services Agency, due to concern the youths may use their student visas to gain illegal and permanent entry into Canada or the United States.
Guowen Weng, 16, was enrolled as a student at BCC Academy of English for a two-week course in its summer language program, when he went missing from his east Vancouver homestay family.
The homestay family and BCC Academy administrators contacted police in July, leading Vancouver police to publicize his status as a missing person.
Vancouver police have confirmed that in the same week three more students — two females aged 16 and 17, and a 19-year-old male, also attending BCC — went missing, and that their parents have not responded to calls from police.
Canada Border Services Agency would not speak about the case.
“What irks me is that the parents of the minors are apparently unconcerned,” said Richard Kurland, an immigration lawyer and policy analyst.
“That [lack of parental concern] is the saving grace for the school and recruiters.
“Smugglers will sneak under radar by going to above-board individuals; they'll target a known good business like a language school and illicitly complete paperwork or provide false documents,” he said.
Students who apply for temporary visas need proof that they've been accepted to a school in the form of a letter of acceptance from the school, a profile of their homestay hosts, or both, among other documents.
Upon entry to Canada, a Canada Border Services Agency worker would decide to grant a permit, according to Citizenship and Immigration spokesman Ben Letts.
But one longtime homestay coordinator said the English as a second-language education industry all over Canada is rife with accounts of students using the deregulated ESL school system to come to Canada as a springboard to entry into the United States.
“Over my seven years in the industry I've heard stories that students come from other countries, perhaps as visitors, go with friends to Seattle for a weekend and don't come back,” said Jeannette Zeller, an independent homestay coordinator who launched her own agency, Hallmark Homestay, three years ago.
She said she's heard of students living abroad who copy letters of acceptance from Canadian schools, change students' names and sell them.
“Probably 95 per cent are definitely upstanding people who really come here to learn English,” she said. “But there are a lot of dishonest people who are rotting the system.”
B.C. welcomes more temporary foreign students into its schools than any Canadian province, including Ontario.
In 2007, 21,902 foreign students enrolled in B.C. schools — 1,576 more than 2006, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada statistics.
Weng, who spoke no English at the time he went missing, took his wallet and some personal effects with him, but left his suitcase at the homestay residence when he left in July.
BCC Academy of English, which opened in 2001, offers a general English as a second language curriculum, specialized English language instruction for business people and medical professionals, and a youth culture program in concert with UBC.
The college staff refused to discuss the missing students. The number for the school's homestay coordinator listed on the school's website is out of operation.
Kurland said Canada and China maintain excellent communications between them on immigration policy, in full knowledge that student status could be considered a quick gateway to residency.
“The Canadian embassy in Beijing is running security and document checks as deep for students as for would-be immigrants, knowing full well that when a student enters Canada, the likelihood is very high that they remain here permanently.”