Punjab’s illegal immigration back in spotlight after Canada’s recent deportation threat

As immigration from Punjab grew at least seven fold over last decade, fraud also rose; in recent case, students blamed immigration consultants for faking college offer letters used to get Canadian visas

June 16, 2023 07:15 pm | Updated 08:19 pm IST - CHANDIGARH

A silhouette of a man at an airport. Image for representational purposes only.

A silhouette of a man at an airport. Image for representational purposes only. | Photo Credit: The Hindu photo library

Illegal immigration from Punjab is back in the spotlight after Canada set up a task force on Thursday for case-by-case scrutiny of Indians facing deportation due to their entry into the country allegedly using fake college admission offer letters. Most of those affected hail from Punjab, and are heaving sighs of relief over the reprieve from immediate deportation, but their plight has highlighted broader issues.

In March, Canadian authorities sought to evict a number of Indians who had entered Canada on student visas in 2017 and 2018 on the basis of these fake letters. It is unclear how many Indian citizens are affected, but many of them have now completed their studies and are in the process of applying for permanent residency in Canada, which is when their fake admission letters were found. They are pleading innocence, claiming to be victims of immigration consultants who falsified the letters without their knowledge.

Also Read | Study visa scam in Canada puts Indian students’ careers in jeopardy

‘Cheated by agent’

Jagtar Chand of Mianwal Araian village in Jalandhar has filed a police complaint against Jalandhar-based immigration consultant Brijesh Mishra, who he alleges is responsible for defrauding his 32-year-old daughter Dimple Kumari. In 2017, she arrived in the Canadian city of Brampton on a student visa, to embark on a three-year programme in computer science.

“After Dimple reached Canada, the agent informed us that there was some problem going on in the college where my daughter was to be admitted. He told us that there was a strike going on in that college and that he has arranged for my daughter’s admission in another college, assuring us that there would be no problem in future,” Mr. Chand explained. “But now, when my daughter, after completing her course, applied for permanent residency (PR), the Canadian authorities raised an objection, saying that while Dimple’s visa was based on admission to a government college, she instead has completed her studies at a private college.”

Mr. Chand sought justice for his daughter. “We paid around ₹11 lakh, including admission fees, to the agent and he played fraud on us for which my daughter is now facing the consequence. I have filed a complaint with the police, and hope we will get justice. I urge Punjab and the Indian government to strongly take care of all such students who are facing the sword of deportation and find a permanent solution by giving them PR,” he added.

Illegal migration

A large number of people from Punjab, especially the youth, travel abroad in the hope of a better life. As migration increases, illegal and irregular migration has also grown significantly. There is little authentic data on such irregular migrants in the public domain, although studies say the magnitude of the problem is “substantial” among migrants from Punjab. “Every year, more than 20,000 youth from Punjab attempt irregular migration,” according to a 2009 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The cases of illegal migration often come to light when a prospective migrant falls prey to fraudsters and is cheated by unscrupulous agents, or on being apprehended in a foreign country. In the current case, a number of migrants have blamed Mr. Mishra for their plight. Though police have filed a case against him, the Jalandhar-based immigrantion consultant is still at large.

Police register case

“After landing in Canada, the consultant told students that they could not enroll in that particular college for various reasons, and were told to switch colleges, which they did in order to begin their studies. Over the last five to six years, most of the students have completed their studies, entered the workforce, started families and have applied for permanent residency (PR),” the group of affected students, said in a statement last month, adding, “They were unaware of the fake offer letters until they began applying for PR.”

Jalandhar Police Commissioner Kuldeep Singh Chahal said that based on the complaints, the police have registered cases under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. “The matter is under investigation and a lookout notice has been issued against Mishra. Cases are also registered against other agents against whom complaints are being received,” he said.

Growing migration

The State’s record of Police Clearance Certificates (PCC) issued over the past decade shows a steady increase in the number of people migrating from Punjab. The PCC is issued to passport holders in case they have applied for residential status, employment or long-term visas, or for immigration.

Data accessed by The Hindu shows that over ten lakh PCCs have been issued across different districts of Punjab since 2012. In that year, just 24,334 PCCs were issued; a decade later, in 2022, Punjab issued 182,054 PCCs. In the first half of 2023 alone, 121,593 PCCs have been issued.

“Migration is a natural phenomenon and the magnitude is sizeable, and these PCC figures show that migration is substantial. There’s hardly any formal data collected by State agencies on migrants or illegal migrants,” explained Krishan Chand, a former acting director general of the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, who has co-authored a study on the Indian diaspora, especially on migration from Punjab.

Punjab case study

“In Punjab, the agriculture and industrial sector is close to saturation amid increased mechanisation, and this has resulted in a drop in employment opportunities. The trend of going abroad, especially after passing Class 12, is quite rampant in Punjab. The charm of foreign land, quality education, and better employment opportunities, are a few temptations for the potential immigrants,” Dr. Chand told The Hindu. “The youth, obsessed with the allurement of going to foreign countries, is the best bet for the network of intermediaries-agents, who charge a hefty amount of money to send them abroad. Students and their families in several cases ask the agent to arrange for immigration by any ‘means’. Amid this, fraudsters and unscrupulous persons dupe many by cheating and playing fraud in the name of sending them abroad. There are unscrupulous persons, who sell these youth the ‘dream of better life’ in foreign countries. Similarly, for those who are looking for labour-intensive jobs abroad, they are also easy prey for these agents,” he added.

Checks needed to contain fraudulent immigration agents

A retired senior officer from the Haryana Overseas Placement Assistance Bureau says that the problem is deep-rooted. “There have been instances where agents tamper with documents and testimonials. But it’s a larger issue, as most such actions can’t be done in isolation. Checks and balances at different levels of government offices need to be stepped up if cases of fraud are to be contained,” the retired official said.

The Punjab government is aware of such cases and has launched a fresh drive to scrutinise documents of travel and immigration agents across the State, likely to be completed by June 30.

Proactive police

“We are taking the necessary steps to tackle this problem. We take immediate action whenever cases related to illegal migration come to our notice. The student’s cheating-based cases are few, it’s not rampant in Punjab,” Additional Director General of Police (NRI Affairs) Praveen Sinha said. “The police is proactive and we are taking preventive measures as well. In all the districts, we have the Chief Minister’s nodal officers, who have been given the responsibility of creating awareness,” he added.

He noted that Punjab is the only State, which has a law — The Punjab Travel Professionals Regulation Act — to ensure regulation of travel agents with a view to check and curb their illegal and fraudulent activities. “As a part of creating awareness, we tell people not to go to unregistered agents; make due diligence to verify the credentials of the college or institution; if one is seeking a job, go to registered immigration agents and not travel agents,” he said.

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