For Karanveer Singh, the pieces of his Canadian dream started to fit together one by one.
In 2019, the 24-year-old from Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh, India, received a letter of acceptance for the business administration program at Loyalist College, a public college in Belleville, Ont. That letter was then used to obtain a student visa and his entry into Canada.
Singh’s dream? To build a better life for himself while sending money back home to support his physically disabled father, who sold his farmland and spent his life savings to pay $25,000 for his son’s education.
Now that dream has come crashing back to earth. Singh is one of the dozens of international students from India who could soon be sent back there, accused of using forged documents to get into Canada.
Singh said he didn’t do anything wrong and was unaware that his immigration agent in India used those papers for his student visa application.
“I didn’t know that a fake document was used in my student visa application,” Singh told The Fifth Estate in an interview. “It wasn’t until after I received that notice from the [Canada Border Services Agency] that I found the letter was fraudulent.”
Singh, who is now living in Windsor, Ont., said his problems began the moment he arrived in Canada four years ago.
He said his immigration agent in India, whom he paid to handle his student application, called him and said he had to switch from Loyalist to another college, or he wouldn’t be eligible for a post-graduation work permit.
His agent has reportedly defrauded other clients in India. The Fifth Estate couldn’t reach the agent that Singh said he hasn’t been able to contact since 2021. Singh said his family also filed a lawsuit against the agent, to which he has not responded.
Singh said the agent enrolled him at Canada College, a private career college in Montreal. He completed his two-year business administration course and graduated in April 2021.
But after he applied for his post-graduation work permit, he received a letter from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) that said he had used a fraudulent letter of acceptance from Loyalist College to obtain his student visa.
‘I was defrauded by my agent’
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Singh. “I was defrauded by my agent.”
Singh’s application for a work permit was denied and he faces a removal order from the CBSA.
He is not alone.
Harinder Singh, a 22-year-old activist at the Montreal Youth Student Organization, is tracking students who are facing removal orders. According to him, there are more than 100 international students who have received removal orders from the government because of a fake letter of acceptance in their student visa application since 2021.
His group organized protests last month at Chinguacousy Park in Brampton, Ont.
Dozens of students showed up at the park northwest of Toronto to fight to stay in Canada. Students carried signs that read: “We are victims,” “Our agent did fraud with us,” “We need your support” and “We need justice.”
Harinder Singh said his group is planning another protest in downtown Toronto, urging the federal government to review their cases.
Students say they didn’t know documents were false
The students say they were unaware that their agents used a fraudulent document in their initial student visa applications.
One of those students, Inderjeet Singh, came to Canada in 2019 based on an admission letter for the Toronto campus of Lambton College, a public college with its main campus in Sarnia, Ont.
After his arrival, Inderjeet Singh said, his immigration agent, Brijesh Mishra from Education Migration Services in Jalandhar, India, told him that Lambton College was full for the semester, and there was an eight-month waiting period until the next enrolment.
So he enrolled instead at Alpha College of Business and Technology in Scarborough, Ont.
He completed his two-year business administration course and graduated in 2021. He then applied for his permanent residency using the Temporary Resident to Permanent Resident Pathway program.
Inderjeet Singh said he was stunned when he received a notice from the CBSA accusing him of using a fraudulent letter of acceptance from Lambton College to obtain his student visa.
“I was expecting to become a permanent resident of Canada,” he said. “But instead I received a notice to leave the country.”
He told The Fifth Estate that dozens of international students who are facing removal orders due to fraudulent admission letters in their initial student visa applications were all represented by that same agent: Brijesh Mishra.
The Fifth Estate obtained a letter signed by Mishra in September 2022 involving yet another international student, who has requested that her identity not be disclosed due to privacy reasons. The letter states Mishra withdrew the tuition fees paid by the student and her family to attend Fanshawe College in London, Ont., a public college, and then enrolled her in the tiny Evergreen College.
She spent approximately $12,000 for her first year of college at Evergreen, an institution which she says had only four classrooms at its Brampton location. Afterward, she attended Alpha College and obtained another two-year diploma in the computer systems technician program.
After paying $42,000 for three years of education, that student is now also facing a removal order from Canada.
The Fifth Estate reached out to Mishra and his agency, Education Migration Services, seeking his response to allegations he had defrauded his clients.
A staff member said the agency is no longer in touch with Mishra and “can’t comment” on the students’ claims. The Fifth Estate attempted to contact him again, but neither the agency nor Mishra responded.
Why were visas granted?
Students facing removal orders are asking the federal government why they were granted student visas and entry to Canada in the first place if the documents used in the applications were fraudulent.
“They could’ve stopped us four years ago,” said Karanveer Singh. “I have given four years of my life to Canada, and paid high college fees and taxes.”
He said he is being told to leave Canada just when his family back home was hoping he could be financially supporting them and fulfilling what he says are his duties as a son.
“I can’t go back to India,” he said. “My father is handicapped and my whole family is under stress. They have sold the land for me.”
WATCH | The Fifth Estate’s investigation, Sold A Lie:
According to the CBSA, it has “a legal obligation to remove all foreign nationals and permanent residents who are inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) and who have a removal order in force.”
The CBSA said in a written statement that prior to initiating enforcement action against any individual, it reviews all relevant factors related to a case.
It added that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is responsible for the approval of the study permit requests made from overseas before permits are issued by CBSA officers.
IRCC is also responsible for compliance monitoring of students enrolled at their designated learning institutions.
Last month, an Edmonton woman who was also facing a removal order due to misrepresentation in her initial study visa application lost her federal judicial review.
According to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, it was the student’s responsibility to check her letter before submitting the application, even though she says she was deceived by her agent.
System open to ‘exploitation,’ activist says
According to Jaspreet Singh, a former international student and a current activist at the International Sikh Students Association in Toronto, agents in India are taking advantage of the Canadian student visa application system that hasn’t been updated to handle the current volume of students, which has increased by 56 per cent in the last 10 years.
“Ten years ago, the system was fine because fewer international students were coming to Canada,” he said. “Now hundreds of thousands of students are coming in every year using the same system, which has opened gates to the exploitation.”
He added that agents should be out of the equation for a student seeking education in Canada.
“The system needs more regulation and would be better without a middle person who will charge the students big lump sums of money as service fees, and at the same time, get a big commission from the college,” said Jaspreet Singh.
“The agents always push students to go into certain colleges and choose courses from where they will get extra bonuses and commissions.
“It’s not about the quality of education or the infrastructure,” he said. “It’s always about what the agent wants and the student has to act accordingly.”
Being deported from Canada can be a matter of life and death for international students, said Jaspreet Singh, especially for the South Asian community.
He said many parents sell their homes and land and spend their life savings to send their children to Canada for better education and a brighter future. And students don’t always tell their parents if they are in a helpless situation on the other side of the world.
“Unfortunately, this can escalate into a worst-case scenario,” said Jaspreet Singh. “This can lead to suicides or severe mental health trauma for international students.”
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told CBC News that there are certain challenges while dealing with third parties who might be promoting Canada’s immigration programs in other jurisdictions.
“People who not only exploit the system, but exploit the students who find themselves in Canada, deserve no place in Canada’s immigration system,” said Fraser. “I have more faith today than I would have several years ago that we would be able to police against that kind of abuse in the system.”
IRCC said in a statement that “an individual in this situation would benefit from a procedural fairness process. Individuals involved would be offered an opportunity to explain what transpired, and the officer would take that information into account when making their decision.”
It further added that it is the applicant’s responsibility to show that they meet the requirements and applicants are responsible for the documents submitted with their applications, and removals from Canada are the responsibility of the Canada Border Services Agency.
Students urged to do research
Jaspreet Singh said students should also be careful before selecting their college and handing over money.
“This is about their life. They are investing the lifetime savings of their parents for their education,” he said. “They should also do their due diligence by doing proper research before handing out their money to anyone.”
Fraser also urged students to rely on the information posted on the Government of Canada website, rather than third-party promoters.
Karanveer Singh is waiting for his federal judicial review. He has also lost his legal work privileges in Canada.
He said he’s been unemployed for the last couple of months and has to rely on his family back home again, as they send him money to fight his court case and pay for living expenses.
However, he said he’s determined to earn his right to stay in Canada and is willing to fight for it.
“I’m always ready to stand out in front,” said Karanveer. “There are many more like me dealing with this problem and we just need support to raise our voices because we haven’t done anything wrong.”