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

Students from China and Vietnam have been caught up in an immigration scam affecting Indian students involving fake acceptance letters to Canadian colleges, the federal immigration department told MPs.

Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told the Commons committee on citizenship and immigration that eight Indian students ensnared in the fraud have already been deported. But they could return to Canada “if they demonstrate that their intention to come to Canada was genuine and that they were not complicit in fraud.”

Mr. Fraser this week granted a reprieve from deportation to students who were unknowingly involved in the scam. They will be granted temporary residency permits while a task force investigates their cases to see if they were innocently duped or complicit in the immigration fraud.

The task force will look into the cases of 57 Indian students with bogus admission letters to Canadian colleges and universities who have been issued with removal orders, and 25 are going through the deportation process, deputy minister Christiane Fox told MPs on the immigration committee last Wednesday.

Ten Indian students found to have fake admission letters to colleges have left Canada voluntarily.

Ottawa freezing deportation orders for international students duped by fake acceptance letters

Ottawa launched a probe into 2,000 suspicious cases involving students from India, China and Vietnam earlier this year. It found that around 1,485 had been issued bogus documents to come to Canada by immigration consultants abroad, she said.

Although 85 per cent of the students affected by scams were from India, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada had also uncovered evidence of fraud affecting Chinese and Vietnamese students.

Ms. Fox said 976 of the students had been refused entry to Canada after their letters of acceptance from colleges were found to be fake, while 448 had their applications to come to Canada approved.

The deputy minister told the committee of MPs that around 300 of these students would have their cases individually investigated by the new task force. Others of the 448 who had their applications approved have been found to have been linked to “criminality.”

In the Commons last Friday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre said the students had been “defrauded by shady consultants who gave them fake admission letters.” He said the newcomers should be given work permits while they wait for their applications for permanent residence to be processed.

Also on Friday, Conservative MPs called for overseas immigration consultants who duped the students to be blacklisted and all their files, including those in the past, to be reviewed.

“Every consultant or agent who scammed these international students should have the files they worked on reviewed to protect the victims and proactively inform them,” said Tom Kmiec, Conservative immigration critic. “Any consultant or agent who committed fraud should be barred and their names should be logged with IRCC to prevent future fraud.”

Saskatoon Conservative Brad Redekopp, who also sits on the immigration committee, urged the federal government to immediately start checking the files of overseas consultants found to have issued bogus documents. He told The Globe and Mail it was a problem that, while Canadian immigration consultants had to register and were subject to standards, overseas consultants did not face similar checks.

Ms. Fox said the department was already looking into the files of consultants found to have issued fake letters of acceptance to Canadian universities.

Mr. Fraser said the department had found that multiple consultants had been involved in the scam involving fake admission letters as part of study permit applications. He said the government was conducting hundreds of investigations to “bust fraudsters.”

Deportation order over bogus college admission letter could set precedent: lawyers

In 2018, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada introduced a new program to verify letters of acceptance to colleges, he said. But he added the department deals with hundreds thousands of applications a year and it would be hard to manually verify every admission letter. He hoped that new efforts to clamp down on overseas scams could be aided by technology, but it also required the co-operation of foreign authorities.

He said he understood the situation was extremely distressing for students facing deportation, after being duped by “bad actors,” and their well-being was paramount.

The task force will look at whether they finished their studies or started work in Canada soon after they arrived.

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