Victims of immigration fraud call for industry regulation
Metro Vancouver residents who lost thousands of dollars trying to secure their loved ones' entry into Canada say the immigration consulting industry needs to be regulated against selling false hopes.
Dozens of protestors gathered at the York Centre Plaza in Surrey on Saturday to protest the lack of government oversight for immigration consultants.
Many sought consulting services while trying to bring their families from India into Canada legally. They claim they were told the process could be sped up for a hefty price, sometimes as much as $20,000.
"They were made to believe that giving money to the immigration consultant meant a guaranteed immigration for their people in India or other countries," organizer Aditya Mohan said.
In return, they got only anger and embarrassment. Some say the companies they hired left town or declared bankruptcy, and refunds were out of the question.
Mohan said many consultants took advantage of their clients' lack of English by having them sign contracts they couldn't read. Although refunds may have been promised verbally, on paper they were not.
Gurpreet Cheema and her family tried to bring her younger brother to Canada on a work visa last year. After handing over a $4,000 cheque and filling out the appropriate paperwork, Cheema was told it would take between six and eight months for him to arrive.
After eight months passed with no updates, Cheema grew anxious. She learned that her brother's papers had not gone through.
"They promised they will do it quick, they know everything, and they would save us some time," she said. "They were taking advantage of everybody."
Immigration lawyer Lawrence Wong says he is all-too familiar with such cases.
"When you have difficult cases, this is when people start to think they have to use someone special who can help them do these impossible things."
Wong says the reality is that lawyers and immigration consultants exist only to help uninformed citizens navigate the complex bureaucratic process, but can do little to speed it up.
"Supposedly every case is treated the same way, so whether you use a lawyer or a consultant it doesn't really make a lot of difference," he said.
Wong said the best way the government can protect people from fraudulent consultations is to require client fees go into a trust account until services are rendered, as it is with lawyers.
Mohan agrees, and says the government should go even further, forcing consultants to provide translated contracts in their clients' native language.
For now, Cheema says families must be warned.
"Please, please don't give any money to anyone," she said. "Just do it the regular way. It might take time, just don't fall into these immigration offices."
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Shannon Paterson