Jalandhar: For the past week, a dozen students from Punjab who were victims of a fake admission scam have been protesting against deportation orders issued by the Canadian government.
Sitting opposite the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA) office on 6899 Airport Road, Mississauga in Ontario province in a tent with some water bottles and food, they hold banners that say ‘Unite against deportation’, ‘Stop deportation’ and ‘We want justice’.
The Punjab natives say they were the victims of a scam by the Jalandhar-based education consultant Brajesh Mishra, who issued them doctored admission letters from institutes in Canada in 2017 and 2018. They obtained visas based on these letters and travelled to Canada. After landing there, the consultant told them that they could not enrol in that particular college and got them “adjusted” in other colleges.
Many of them finished their education and then obtained work permits. The forged documents came to the CBSA’s notice when they applied for permanent residence (PR). It is estimated that around 700 students were issued deportation orders by the CBSA for not having genuine admission letters.
The former students say the Canadian government is victimising them further. “We have a good academic record and cleared the IELTS exam with the required bands. Why on earth would we require a fake admission letter to reach Canada?”
But an independent tribunal, which heard the cases of some of the former students, upheld the border agency’s recommendation to have them deported.
Meanwhile, Mishra – the Jalandhar-based consultant, remains at large. A first information report was lodged against the accused in India and the license of Mishra’s firm was cancelled under sections 4 and 6 of the Punjab Travel Professionals Regulation Act, 2014.
‘Bearing brunt of someone else’s mischief’
Balbir Singh, a former student who is facing deportation charges, said that he came from Surrey in British Columbia province to Mississauga to join the protest. “We were scammed by the education consultants. Unfortunately, it is we who are bearing the brunt of someone’s mischief. All our education documents, IELTS bands and fees were genuine. We stayed in Canada for five years, studied in college, got a work permit and contributed to Canada’s economy. How come Canadian officials never detected such a big fraud? We are being targeted for no fault of ours,” said Singh, who is originally from Amritsar.
Balbir said the former students’ worries were mounting with every passing day. “One of our friends Lovepreet Singh, who came to study at Lambton College, Mississauga but had to shift to another college in Montreal in 2017 because of the fake admission letter. He will be deported on June 13. It is a race against time for all of us,” he added.
Lovepreet’s dreams were shattered the moment he landed in Canada in 2017, after he got to know that his agent did not even pay his fees.
As per the newspaper Toronto Star, the Lambton College administration informed Lovepreet that they did not have his admission information or a record of his tuition fee payment. A few months later, he was invited to the main campus of the college in Sarnia, where he was told by the CBSA officials that his admission letter was doctored. He was issued a removal order in 2018 and was scheduled to be deported on June 13.
Like others, Balbir was also initially offered a different college by the education consultant but was sent to Langara College, Surrey in 2017. “After spending a whopping amount on my study visa, I paid another CAD $20,000 as lawyer’s fees to fight my case. My case is ongoing in a federal court. All I want to say is that we, the students, are innocent. Please save us. Don’t play with our future,” he said.
Another former student, Inderjit Singh Aulakh said, “By now, I should have got my PR but I am here on the road demanding justice. I do go for my job, but deep down the fear of what may come next hits hard. We tried all avenues to seek justice but nothing has worked. We then sat in protest on May 28.”
He said that the former students were thankful to the Punjabi diaspora for supporting them, particularly the Sri Guru Singh Sabha gurudwara, Malton, which was providing langar (free food) and water facility. “The Punjabi community is supporting us in every possible way. Every day, the total number of people at the protest site increases to around 500 to 700,” he said.
“Some Punjabi singers and religious figures were also supporting our protest but we have kept control of the protest in our own hands. It is a protest by the students,” Aulakh said.
Jashandeep Brar, a former international student based in Surrey, British Columbia province, whose NGO ‘Team We Care’ was supporting the protest, said, “Our team in Toronto is helping the students. The federal government is under pressure now. We are hopeful that the students will get justice but this is bound to have a long term impact on immigration policy change in Canada.”
Ramanjot Brar, who hails from Bathinda, got a deportation letter from the CBSA in May 2022. “The Conservative MPs were supporting us but again nothing has so far. We are hopeful that the Canadian government will listen to our pleas. The students are not at fault, it is the Jalandhar-based education consultant and his associates and those who cleared our documents at the time of admission,” she said.
Ramanjot said that other than the financial burden that her family faced for sending her to Canada on a study visa, she was also concerned about societal pressure back home. “Initially, my parents stopped me from joining the protest, as my identity would be revealed but I decided to join anyway. We have been cheated and it is we who are paying the price. It is our fervent appeal to the Punjab and Indian governments to take up this matter with the Canadian government and save our lives,” she said.
Social media campaigns
Apart from the protest, the former students have begun social media campaigns to highlight their case while some prominent Canada-based YouTubers and bloggers have also come out in support.
The former students are also miffed with the Punjab and Union governments for keeping mum over this development. “We are thankful to AAP Rajya Sabha MP Vikram Singh Sahney, who is in touch with us. He is also part of our WhatsApp group of protestors but nothing has happened so far. The government should act before it’s too late,” Aulakh said.
However, it was learnt that Sahney took up this matter with Canadian immigration minister Sean Fraser, who said the Canadian government was investigating the immigration fraud.
We’re actively investigating recent reports of fraudulent acceptance letters.
To be clear: Our focus is on identifying culprits, not penalizing victims. Victims of fraud will have an opportunity to demonstrate their situation & present evidence to support their case.
— Sean Fraser (@SeanFraserMP) May 26, 2023
Notably, the list of colleges, where these students got admission includes some of the reputed names like Humber College, Lambton College, St Claire, and Seneca College to name a few, all situated in Ontario, Toronto.
Not culpability of students, says their lawyer
Sumit Sen, an international lawyer who took up the former students’ cases in April 2023, said that nobody knows the exact number of students who have been given deportation orders. “The protest has brought the matter to the notice of all parties. The cases are being heard individually and everybody’s case is at different stages. While some have been refused, others’ cases were in the process. In this case, the issue is of law and policy,” he said.
Sen said that the students were scammed by Brajesh Mishra. It is not the culpability of the students but a case of dereliction of duty by Canadian officials, he said. The students’ documents were checked and cleared at least four times in the past five years. “How could they clear these documents, when such a big fraud had taken place?” he asked.
Sen said that the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship, which includes MPs from all parties, was also trying to raise this issue in the parliament. “Even the leader of Opposition Pierre Poilievre also spoke against students’ deportation in the parliament,” he added.
Gurpartap Singh Toor, the councillor of Peel Region, where many of the institutes are located, has also supported the students’ protest. “Students are not perpetrators. They are victims. We have flaws in the Canadian immigration system which need to be addressed. We stand in solidarity with the students. The support for students was gaining momentum.”
Avtar Dhaliwal, a Toronto-based independent journalist, said that the education consultants are to be blamed. “The education consultants admitted more students than the sanctioned limit of colleges. It should be probed how these Jalandhar-based consultants issued fake admission letters and managed to get the students shifted to other colleges. The matter has been under the scanner for the last three-four years but nobody thought it would lead to the deportation of students. We hope the protest yield fruitful results,” he said.
Kusum Arora is a freelance journalist.