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Feds plan to clamp down on student visa fraud

But lawyer and author doubt proposed changes would deter immigration system abuse

A lawyer who has written a book on post- secondary education regulation doubts that proposed changes to Canada’s International Student Program will stop immigration fraud.

Officials from Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and B.C.’s Advanced Education Ministry held industry consultation meetings in Vancouver January 15 on a proposal to limit study permits to students at provincial or territorial-designated institutions.

Students taking six-month courses could continue coming to Canada on a tourist visa.

Under current laws, foreign students must show only an intent to study in Canada.

There is no requirement to actually study and no tracking of student activities. Under the proposed changes, CIC would be allowed to order evidence of study and seek deportation.

“They’re creating all this anxiety from institutions that have been bringing in international students for a long time, generally with no serious problems,” said John Boon, who wrote Education Futures: Commercial Reality, Law, Innovation and Opportunity. “Now they’re threatening to not put them on this list or create this doubt about it.

“If all they want to do is come into the country and go to work in a brothel or jump in the back of a van and head for Portland and southern California, well they can do that on the six-month plan.”

A 2006 Canada Border Services Agency report found student-related fraud posed a threat to public safety and national security because some foreign students were linked to prostitution, drug trafficking and gun smuggling. A 2010 CIC evaluation concluded there was reported fraud and misuse in the International Student Program.

The December 28, 2012, notice in the Canada Gazette said: “Some educational institutions take advantage of international students by promising programs of study they are unauthorized or unequipped to deliver, while others operate as visa mills with the sole purpose of facilitating the entry of foreign nationals into Canada.”

The 2010 CIC report found that internal problems hindered enforcement.

“Quality assurance activities are inconsistent across the department, making it difficult to assess the overall quality of decision-making on student applications and verify stakeholder perceptions of its inconsistency.”

The BC Jobs Plan international education strategy aims to increase B.C.’s 94,000 international students by 50%.

The report claimed that foreign students spend $1.8 billion annually in B.C. on tuition, accommodation and living expenses, which generates $70 million in government tax revenue and creates 22,000 jobs.

B.C. attracts 28% of Canada’s foreign students, who on average spend $7,856 for language courses and $33,150 for private post-secondary tuition.

Canada’s market share of the world’s 3.3 million international mobile students is 4%, behind the U.S. (20%), the United Kingdom (13%), France (8%) and German, China and Australia (7% each).

Boon said uncertainty exists about whether all provinces will sign on with the federal government and how schools will be designated.

The Private Career Training Institutions Agency of BC is B.C.’s Crown corporation regulator that accredits private colleges.

“The future of the Canadian education system is going to have to be balanced,” Boon said. “No doubt it will predominantly be public, but the private sector can add tremendous capacity to the system.”