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The CBSA has identified 10 people involved in criminal activity after an investigation into study permits obtained through fake acceptance letters from colleges and universities.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The Canada Border Services Agency, which is investigating abuses of the student visa system, has uncovered evidence that some people who came to Canada on student visas were not attending university or college but were involved in criminality and gangs.

The CBSA would not disclose details of continuing investigations, but it told The Globe and Mail that a probe into 300 students who gained study permits with fake acceptance letters from universities and colleges has so far identified 10 people involved in criminal activity in Canada.

Ottawa launched a probe into 2,000 suspicious cases involving students, mainly from India, China and Vietnam, earlier this year. It found that around 1,485 had been issued bogus admission letters to Canadian colleges and universities by overseas immigration consultants.

A task force, including members from the federal Immigration Department, is trying to identify genuine students who intended to come to Canada to study but were ensnared in the fraud. Ottawa has paused their removals from the country while the review takes place. They include 57 Indian students given bogus admission letters to Canadian colleges and universities who have been issued with removal orders.

The CBSA probe into abuse of the student visa system dates back to a 2018 investigation into organized crime, which led to the discovery that student visas were being used by people to come to Canada to join gangs.

“The CBSA will continue to focus inland investigative resources on high-risk cases, with criminality and national security being the highest priorities,” said Guillaume Bérubé, a CBSA spokesman.

Aaron McCrorie, the CBSA’s vice-president of intelligence and enforcement, told MPs on the Commons immigration committee last month that the discovery of the link between student visas and gangs dated back to 2018 when it had become concerned by “what we were seeing in terms of a pattern of individuals coming into Canada, potentially using the student visa process to join criminal gangs.”

In response to questions from Tom Kmiec, Conservative immigration critic, Mr. McCrorie said the agency was digging deeper into immigration fraud involving students that could lead to more cases emerging.

“Student visa applications must be thoroughly vetted to prevent fraud, criminality, and ensure students aren’t being taken advantage of,” Mr. Kmiec said in an interview.

Mr. Bérubé told The Globe that uncovering links to crime was a priority for the agency.

“The CBSA is responsible for investigating alleged violations of the Customs Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), focusing on complex cases such as organized crime, and primarily targeting the organizers, facilitators and perpetrators of crimes that pose a threat to the integrity of Canada’s border legislation,” Mr. Bérubé said.

He said the CBSA has criminal-investigation sections in each region of Canada. The Pacific Region team recently investigated Brijesh Mishra, an Indian education agent who allegedly played a role in the scam involving fake Canadian college admission letters. He was arrested and charged last month under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act while crossing the U.S.-Canada border.

The Indian citizen’s arrest followed protests by international students facing deportation for allegedly using fake admission letters to obtain study permits. The students said they were unaware the letters were not genuine but were made aware by border officials after applying to remain in Canada, including for permanent residence.

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