Providing temporary relief, Canadian authorities on Saturday stayed the deportation of some Indians who have been accused of submitting fake university admission letters to get into the country.

In several cases, the fact that the letters were forgeries came to light years after the Indians had arrived, studied and started working in the North American country. The Indians claim that they were defrauded by an immigration consultant in Punjab’s Jalandhar who supplied the fake letters. After they launched protests against their deportation, the authorities promised fairness in dealing with their cases and stayed the expulsion of some of them.

Facing deportation

Since May 30, dozens of Indian students and their supporters in the diaspora have been protesting at the Canada Border Services Agency’s office in Mississauga city against the deportation orders that several hundred of them have received.

Indians are the biggest cohort of international students in Canada. More than 2.26 lakh Indians went to study there in 2022 alone. The same year, 1.18 lakh Indians received permanent residency.

Although initial news reports had suggested that nearly 700 Indians had received deportation orders, an unidentified Indian official said on Monday that the actual number was “much less”, but did not give details. Still, the number is believed to be in the hundreds.

Most of the Indians now facing deportation had gone to Canada between 2017 and 2019 for education.

Balbir Singh went in 2018 after his immigration consultant in Jalandhar said he had received an offer to study at the Fanshawe College in Ontario.

After he had reached Canada (he travelled early to see his friends), Singh was told by his agent that he had received another offer from Vancouver’s Langara College, which he had preferred all along. Singh, who is from Punjab’s Amritsar, switched to Langara College. After completing his studies, Singh worked for a couple of years on a post-graduation work permit.

However, Singh said, “When I applied for permanent residency in mid-2021, the Canadian immigration authority contacted me. That’s when I came to know about the problem.”

Singh’s agent had allegedly given him, and several other students, admission letters from Canadian educational institutions that turned out to be fabricated. The letters had been used to obtain student visas, but were found to be fraudulent by Canadian immigration authorities when the students applied for permanent residency some years later.

‘We have done nothing wrong

Many of the students said that the fake admission letters have, over the years, passed through several Canadian government agencies. It was on the basis of these letters that they received study and work permits. The Canadian agencies had not disputed the admission letters until they were submitted with applications for permanent residency.

In some cases, however, the students had been informed by immigration authorities that their letters were fake as soon as they arrived at their institution.

Singh said they were now seeking justice from the Canadian authorities, which meant giving them permanent resident status. “We have done nothing wrong,” Singh argued. “We did not do any fraud.”

Fighting the deportation orders legally have burdened them financially. “Besides the money I paid as tuition fees, I have paid another 20,000 Canadian dollars as lawyer’s fees now to fight my case,” Singh said.

Singh’s case challenging the deportation order is pending before a federal court.

Some of the Indian students who are facing deportation and their supporters protesting outside the Canadian immigration office in Mississauga, Canada. Credit: Migrant Workers Alliance for Change Canada/Twitter
Some of the Indian students facing deportation and their supporters protest outside the Canadian immigration office in Mississauga. Credit: Migrant Workers Alliance for Change Canada/Twitter

The students, including Singh, have alleged that they were defrauded by an immigration agent named Brijesh Mishra, who ran the Education Migration Services consultancy in Punjab’s Jalandhar.

The Punjab Police have booked Mishra under sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to forgery and for fraudulently or dishonestly using forged documents as genuine. They are also investigating two of Mishra’s alleged accomplices, Gurnam Singh and Rahul Bhargava.

The Indian Express reported in March that Mishra had been arrested in 2013 for allegedly forging documents to send students abroad, but had still gone on to start the Education Migration Services consultancy in 2014.

It is unclear if all of the Indian students facing deportation from Canada were allegedly defrauded by Mishra’s consultancy, or if other such consultants were involved as well.

‘Not penalising the victims’

Meanwhile, Punjab’s Non-Resident Indian Affairs Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal on Friday said that the state government will provide free legal assistance to students from the state facing deportation from Canada. Many of them are originally from Punjab. Dhaliwal also said that he has sought help rom all Punjab-origin Canadian lawmakers.

On Wednesday, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured the Canadian parliament that Indian students will be treated fairly. “To be clear, our focus is on identifying the culprits, not penalising the victims,” Trudeau said. “Victims of fraud will have an opportunity to demonstrate their situations and present evidence to support their cases.”

He added, “We recognise the immense contributions international students bring to our country and we remain committed to supporting victims of fraud as we evaluate each case.”

A day later, India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar said that New Delhi has been in touch with the Canadian authorities over the matter. “The students studied in good faith,” Jaishankar added. “The people who misled them, the culpable parties should be acted against. It is unfair to punish a student who undertook their education in good faith.”

Referring to Trudeau’s assurance, Jaishankar said, “I think the Canadians also accept that, you know, [deportation] would be unfair, I mean, if a student has done no wrong.”

On Thursday, an all-party Canadian parliamentary immigration committee urged the country’s immigration authority to stop the deportations and offer the affected persons an alternative pathway to secure permanent residency on humanitarian grounds.

On Saturday, Canadian authorities stayed the deportation proceedings against some of the Indian students, including Lovepreet Singh, whose case triggered the ongoing protest outside the immigration in Mississauga. Lovepreet was scheduled to be deported on June 13. But the stay means that the risk of deportation remains hanging over them.

Therefore, the students, backed by a Canada-based Indian youth help group Naujawan Support Network, have demanded that the Canadian government scrap the deportation orders and give them permanent residency.