The first one takes a look at the unscrupulous, unethical, lecherous face of immigration consultancy in the Indian state.
Sandeep Ohri is a dashing 42-year-old who revels in zipping through the traffic chaos in his gleaming Mercedes, passing billboards touting him as the leading immigration consultant in Punjab state.
But Canadian officials see someone else: an extraordinarily brazen and successful scam artist in an industry rife with deceptive swindlers willing to provide applicants with a litany of sham documents — everything from fake airline tickets and doctored bank statements to forged letters from Canadian-based funeral homes.
Of the nearly 500 visa applications formally rejected this year, 228 come from Ohri and his firm, OGIC Immigration Consultants.
The six visa-section staff who work at Canada’s mission in Chandigarh, Punjab’s capital, review 40,000 visa applications a year from students, family members and prospective immigrants. While official statistics aren’t available, one senior Canadian diplomat estimated at least a quarter of those applications are refused because of fraud.
“More would be if the processing was completed, but sometimes you know it’s fraud and just refuse the request and close the file,” the diplomat said.
India is Canada's top source for immigrants simply because of the volume of applications the country produces due to the size of its population. Of those who immigrate approximately half of them come from the state of Punjab. Punjab is home to the majority of India's Sikhs thus there are more Sikhs in Canada than Hindus. Hindus comprise the majority of India's population at 80%; Sikhs are only 2% (there are more Christians in India than Sikhs). In Canada Sikhs constitute roughly 50% of the Indo-Canadian community whereas Hindus are just over 30%.
In Punjab, "the average per-capita annual income of $484 is still the highest in the country" which means in relation to rest of their compatriots Punjabis are not necessarily hurting. They have money.
With that said we come to the second article. This one reveals the financial extent to which Punjabis go to send a son over-seas to secure "a better life" for the family. This can be realized in the form of remittances or the eventual importation of the entire family into western countries through family reunification schemes.
Now, though the story is presented as a tragic tale of a Punjabi family who only tried to make a better life for themselves I cannot say I share that sentiment. I believe they got what they deserved. You see, in India western citizenship is a status symbol and the article makes this clear.
In the small village of Kapure, it is not about keeping up with the Joneses. It’s about keeping up with the Gills and Dhaliwals.
On a narrow, dusty street, one house after the other boasts visible signs of prosperity — a fresh coat of paint, air conditioners, brick driveways and new cars. The children, playing hide and seek, wear Reebok and Nike.
The neighbours share not only affluence but also a common source of it — almost every family has a son, son-in-law or nephew living abroad and sending money home.
Every family, that is, except the Bhangus.
In many villages, almost every house has at least one person in North America, England or Europe.
Those that don’t, like the Bhangus, are considered pariahs, says Krishan Chand, who’s been studying the effects of immigration on villages with the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development. They are excluded from events and, in some cases, parents are not able to find husbands for their daughters.
Thus starts the chase where these left-out families will do anything in the hope of sending a family member — usually a son — abroad.
This leaves them vulnerable to the smooth talk of unscrupulous immigration consultants. But the prospective immigrant is not a babe in the woods free of blame. They oftentimes participate in the fraud.
Typically agents provide prospective university and college students, and others, with fake bank statements and other doctored documents to support their visa requests, which are usually rejected without proof of one’s ability to pay school fees and living expenses.
Others provide their clients with fake passports and visas. Most are rejected.
A visa officer at the Chandigarh mission’s consular section told the Star’s Rick Westhead last year that the staff is deluged with applications sent with phony documents. “Over the past year, 85 per cent of employment letters related to work visa applications have been forgeries,” he said.
The Bhangus find it hard to believe they are living this nightmare.
Prabhjot says he resisted for some years but then started exploring various avenues, but found he couldn’t immigrate to Canada under the points system, or as a student or on a work permit.
The family knew there was a better chance of finding a well-to-do husband for Hardeep, who had turned 20, if Prabhjot was abroad.
That’s when Prabhjot says a friend from the village who now lives in Toronto introduced him to an immigration agent. The agent promised to take Prabhjot to Toronto for $48,000.
Things go downhill from there but at least he escapes with his life. Not so for Amandeep Kaur Dhillion. Remember her? The status seeking impulses of her Sikh family back in India sacrificed her happiness and sold her into a loveless marriage so that they can use her to immigrate to Canada. She was stabbed to death on January 1, 2009, her father-in-law was charged with first degree murder.
Punjab is a hot bed of fraud and so, in their infinite political wisdom, the Liberal Party of Canada opened a foreign mission right in the belly of the beast. Opened in 2004 to reward Sikh voting blocs for their loyal support Canada has the only foreign mission in Punjab's state capital. With an annual operating budget of around $25 million a year the mission serves no purpose other than to waste Canadian tax dollars by funneling scam artists, the pathetic, the mediocre, the greedy, the aged, all into Canada. But they eventually vote and isn't that what really matters in the end?
Jason Kenney, Canada's minister responsible for immigration, was in India recently to specifically address the immigration abuses Canada is subjected to by Indian applicants, particularly those in Punjab. Well good luck with that. Why should India care? Why would India want to curb the steady outflow of non-resident Indians into foreign countries who can then influence domestic politics and the economy to satisfy India's interests?
Forget India. Canada needs to protect itself and the way to do that is to shut down the damn, useless mission in Chandigarh. For one thing it plays into the hands of the immigration consultants in the state by making the execution of their scams all the more easier. In this regard Canada is an accomplice to the crimes.
Also, what quality of immigrant is the mission helping to import into the nation when many of the applications are clearly fraudulent? If these people are willing to go so far as to defraud the Canadian government and the people it represents then they don't deserve to come to Canada at all. And what kind of Canadians will they be, if you can call them that, if Canadian citizenship is nothing more to them than a status symbol on par with an expensive car and fancy golf clubs?
Canada needs to shut down the mission as well as curtail immigration from India altogether. We simply accept far too many immigrants from that country to be of any worth. And of that county a considerable sum come from one particular region. Indeed this is characteristic of the immigration system as a whole. Almost 60% of immigrants come from Asia and of that 60% most come from a few source countries chiefly India, China, and the Philippines. This doesn't say much about diversity in the immigration system now does it?
I don't think the mission will be shut down at all. As I mentioned before Sikhs constitute roughly 50% of the Indo-Canadian community. Because of this disproportionate over-representation in Canada, coupled with their clout as a well organized voting bloc, Canada's political parties trip over each other to insincerely pander to the Sikh community for political support. There's votes to be had and if a stagnant economy with an 8.1% unemployment rate isn't enough to encourage Canada's governing parties to curb immigration then don't expect anything to be done respecting Indian immigration fraud.