International students walking on university campus.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) arrived at an uncomfortable revelation in what was likely 2021 or early 2022; in the years prior, hundreds of international students from India had submitted applications to enter Canada as students with fraudulent documentation – and their applications had been approved. The fake documents were not caught, and they had been issued study permits. Since entering Canada, many completed a study program in Canada, applied for a work permit and in many cases, permanent residence status in Canada.

CBSA’s allegation against these individuals was that they misrepresented themselves years ago, in their initial applications, and they knew – or at the very least should have known at the time of applying – that the immigration representative they retained to assist with their study permit applications had included fraudulent letters of acceptance (LOA) from schools in Canada.

Notably, most of these then prospective students had paid the same immigration consultant in India to help prepare and submit their study permit applications. The vast majority claimed that this consultant acted in bad faith, including fraudulent LOAs in their applications without their knowledge. Our office has had a chance to review some of these LOAs in question, and it is worth pointing out that there is nothing discernible on the face of the letters that would raise any red flags. It is plausible that at least some applicants could have been genuinely misled by these LOAs, not knowing they were fake, especially considering these LOAs were also perceived as genuine by trained Canadian immigration officials, who were reviewing and approving these applications.

Hundreds of these students nonetheless faced deportation as CBSA ramped up its investigation in 2021 and 2022.

Galvanized perhaps by widespread media attention alongside the protests organized by the students themselves, the Canadian government recalibrated and pledged in June 2023 to identify and support innocent victims that really had fallen prey to the bad actors overseas. There was recognition that, while some of the students may have been aware and complicit with the inclusion of fraudulent documents in their applications, at least some were unaware and had, in fact, a genuine desire to study in Canada and follow Canada’s immigration rules. A Task Force was consequently established by the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (the Minister) to assess these students’ circumstances on a case-by-case basis in order to identify where a reprieve from deportation should be granted.

After a few months in operation, it would appear that the Task Force is affecting real, positive outcomes.

Some of the affected individuals have been notified by email that they were found a genuine student that complied with the conditions of their study permit by enrolling and actively studying in Canada. Temporary Resident Permits (TRP) are being issued to overcome initial findings of misrepresentation and inadmissibility, where they were already made against some individuals. Study and work permits are furthermore being issued so that they can continue their education and support themselves while in Canada waiting for a final decision from the government on their future.

The Task Force has specified that, for some of these international students who had submitted applications for permanent residence status in Canada, these applications would continue to be processed notwithstanding a prior finding of misrepresentation and considering the Task Force’s positive review of their case.


Client X: A Case Study

Our office represented one of the students who had fallen victim, who has graciously consented to share her story with the hope that it may help others in her circumstances. She will be referred to as Client X for the remainder of this article.

Client X’s dreams to settle in Canada were shattered when she received an inadmissibility report from CBSA in early 2022, through which she was informed about the misrepresentation allegation made against her.  At that time, Client X had been living in Canada for five years; she had already completed two years of studies in Canada, graduated, and established a good career for herself. She had also applied for permanent residence status in Canada. It was a shocking and devastating discovery that the consultant her family hired in India to assist with her initial study permit application used a fake admission letter. Neither she nor her family had any knowledge of the fraud – they had hired a consultant in India in good faith, paying a significant sum of money to do so to ensure Canadian rules were followed, not circumvented. Her strong grades and English language abilities made her an excellent candidate for Canadian schools, so she had no reason to suspect the letter or any part of the application being inauthentic. The misrepresentation allegation, therefore, left her and her family in shock, paralyzed at the thought of her years of schooling, work experience and investment in Canada would be snatched away before their eyes.

Upon the receipt of the inadmissibility report, Client X retained our office’s services to obtain legal representation with respect to her admissibility hearing. In early 2023, the misrepresentation hearing was conducted at the Immigration Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board where it was argued that, while the LOA was proven to be fraudulent, Client X should not be found to have misrepresented because she had no knowledge of the fraudulent document and furthermore her unawareness was objectively reasonable under the circumstances. There was nothing about the letter that looked fake, and she had, moreover, reviewed the study permit application in detail. There was nothing else that she could have been expected to do to catch the fraudulent document the consultant in India had included in her application. In other words, she reasonably believed the documents included in her study permit application were genuine.

Although the Board Member of the Immigration Division ultimately accepted that Client X was subjectively unaware that the LOA was fraudulent (i.e. she had no knowledge of the fraudulent LOA), the Board Member found that she should have known the acceptance letter was fake; this was not beyond her control. It was the Board Member’s opinion that she could have taken extra steps to confirm the authenticity of the letter, for example, by following up with the school until a confirmation was received directly from the admissions department. (Notably, Client X had followed-up with the school by email regarding her admission prior to her arrival to Canada, but these efforts were found insufficient). The Board Member concluded, simply, that Client X did not exercise sufficient due diligence to ensure the documents included in her application were accurate and genuine.

The negative decision from the Board meant that Client X would need to exit Canada within 30 days. Soon after receiving the heartbreaking news, however, Client X received a TRP, work and study permits through IRCC’s Task Force. In the meantime, she has also received email communication from the Task Force regarding positive assessment of her individual case. The Task Force explicitly mentioned that she was found to be genuine in her intentions to study in Canada and that this positive finding will be taken into consideration with respect to her application for permanent residence.


Looking Ahead

Moving forward, IRCC will be implementing a number of new measures to support international students as well as protect them from bad actors as noted in the IRCC announcement on January 22, 2024.

For one, IRCC announced the implementation of a national intake cap on international study permit applications for the next two years. This is a step aimed at protecting the integrity of the international student system, which, according to the Minister, has been under a threat due to the revenue driven institutions who have significantly increased their intakes without having sufficient support for the international students.

In connection to this cap, there is another requirement that most new post-secondary international students at the college or undergraduate must include a provincial attestation letter (PAL) from a province or territory with their study permit application. The purpose of the PAL is to show not only that the student has been accounted for under a provincial or territorial allocation within the new national cap, but it also provides a clear way for IRCC to verify LOA authenticity when reviewing a study permit application.

The Minister summarized: “International students are vital to Canada and enrich our communities. As such, we have an obligation to ensure that they have access to the resources they need for an enriching academic experience. In Canada, today, this isn’t always the case. Today, we are announcing additional measures to protect a system that has become so lucrative that it has opened a path for its abuse. Enough is enough. Through the decisive measures announced today, we are striking the right balance for Canada and ensuring the integrity of our immigration system while setting students up for the success they hope for.”

Should you have any questions about the new study permit application process, or the immigration fraud scheme mentioned above, do not hesitate to contact us.


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