Suit rips visa profits
By TOM GODFREY
Last Updated: 15th September 2008, 2:51am
A $700-million class-action suit against the immigration department for allegedly profiting off visa-seekers has been given a green light in a precedent-setting case.
A decision by the Federal Court of Canada has hit the right note with immigrants who are upset at the service they received from the department, which pocketed processing fees for up to 100 million visa applications between 1994 and 2005.
“I am doing this for the benefit of others,” said Daniela Mandachescu, 40, of Richmond Hill.
“I received very little service from immigration and I hope others don't have to go through what I did,” she said yesterday.
She joined the class-action suit out of frustration after waiting for two years for a response from immigration officials while sponsoring her mom from Romania. She applied in May 2005 and her 68-year-old mom arrived last July.
She expects a $1,400 refund if the case is successful.
“I am very happy with the development of the case,” Mandachescu said. “I don't like the way so many others are treated.”
Toronto resident Susanne Gyasi is hoping for a refund after dishing out $1,500 for a visa to sponsor her husband from Ghana in 2002.
“They should be paying us compensation in the form of interest on our refund,” Gyasi said. “If I had owed them money they would want interest.”
The motion was filed in 2003 by B.C. couple Alan Hinton, 31, and wife Irina, 30, who were seeking a partial refund, alleging the department made a profit from the sale of visas, which is contrary to the Financial Administration Act, which bans federal departments from turning a profit.
In court documents, Alan claims he paid $75 to apply to sponsor Irina to Canada, when internal documents show the actual cost of processing the application was $36.69 — a profit of $38.31.
“We are determined to get to the bottom of this,” said Quebec lawyer Richard Kurland, one of three attorneys working on the case. “We hope to move to discovery in the next few weeks.”
Court was told there are as many as 43 types of fees covering visas, ranging from those for students, businessmen, foreign workers, permanent residents and sponsors.
“Who is there to protect new Canadians and people who pay for these visas?” Kurland asked. “There's no one there to enforce the law.”
Justice Sean Harrington last Wednesday ruled thatthere are grounds for the action.
“The regulations are only invalid, or not fully enforceable, if Her Majesty made a profit,” Harrington said in his ruling.
“This is essentially a question of fact on which the court will need the benefit of expert testimony.”
Court heard that the millions of potential visa-seekers affected will be sought through advertisements on a government immigration website, lawyers offices and newspapers that cater to new immigrants.
“The minister takes the position that the cost of the service exceeded the revenue,” Harrington said.
“The best way to get to the bottom of things is by an action.”
The lawyers claim the case is the first time the immigration department has been named in a class-action suit.