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Community members gather in support of over 700 students who were duped by 'host' immigration consultants in a protest in Mississauga, Ont., on June 14.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Ottawa is freezing the deportation orders of dozens of Indian international students who have been duped by consultants with fake acceptance letters from Canadian post-secondary institutions, the Immigration Minister has announced, while a task force investigates each individual case.

Sean Fraser said at a press conference Wednesday that students who were unknowingly caught up in the scam will be granted temporary residency permits. The task force will determine if the individuals were indeed victims of deception or whether they were aware that the admission letters were false.

“I want to make it clear that international students who are not found to be involved in fraud will not face deportation,” Mr. Fraser said.

The task force will consider several factors, including whether the students completed their studies and if they immediately began working without intention of studying, he added.

Affected students and their supporters have been protesting the deportation orders outside the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) office in Mississauga, Ont. since late May. They have criticized the Canadian immigration system for failing to properly screen international students who were unknowingly carrying fraudulent documents, only to penalize them after they have established themselves in the country.

While some reports have suggested that the number of former students potentially facing deportation was as high as 700, the Immigration Minister said it was closer to “dozens.”

The freezing of deportation orders is “a relief for students from sleepless nights,” said Jaspreet Singh, founder of the International Sikh Students Association, an advocacy group based in Ontario. However, the protesters still have lingering concerns, such as the freeze being temporary and the possibility that the task force will not reach a different conclusion for affected students.

Demonstrations will “most likely” be ending, though that decision will only be made after consultations with affected students, Mr. Singh said.

The Mississauga protest has been visited by opposition politicians including Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who stopped by last week, said that while Mr. Fraser’s announcement was encouraging, she lamented that he did not provide “long-term solutions” for those affected.

Ramanjot Brar is one of the students who was caught up in the scheme. She came to Canada as an international student from Punjab, India in 2018 and she completed a tourism degree from St. Lawrence College in 2020. She then applied for, and received, a work permit.

However, when Ms. Brar applied for permanent residency, she was told by the CBSA that her acceptance letter was fake. She has since spent approximately $20,000 on immigration lawyer fees.

Ms. Brar says she moved to Canada “for a better life” and would like to stay long-term: “I want to settle my life here in Canada,” she said.

The CBSA should take some responsibility for their lack of diligence, Ms. Brar said.

“They issued the visa, they gave us work permits and after five years they realized that our document was fake. Why didn’t they check when we landed here at Pearson Airport?”

Canada's international student recruiting machine is broken

While Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada receives hundreds of thousands of applications a year, the verification process should be more thorough, according to Kareem El-Assal, director of policy at CanadaVisa, a resource provided by Cohen Immigration Law for migrants.

“Based on the reports, it’s very clear that IRCC dropped the ball … they should have been aware of the fraudulent nature of the letters of admissions,” he said.

Mr. Fraser said Wednesday that work is being done to make checks more diligent.

“Vague” immigration laws in Canada mean that, even though former students were found not to have been aware of the fraudulent acceptance letters, they were all “treated with a single yardstick,” according to immigration lawyer Manraj Sindhu, who is also a former international student from India.

Mr. Sindhu worked on the case of Karamjeet Kaur, a student who had been defrauded by a consultant back in India and was facing deportation. He said Ms. Kaur’s case, like many others, included her parents in rural India mortgaging their land and spending their life savings on their daughter’s education in Canada.

“They studied here, they worked here. They did everything that was expected from them, and then all of a sudden, they were told to go back to what? They have given their whole life, all their money,” he said.

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