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October 2, 2012

Crackdown on citizenship and immigration fraud

Edward C. Corrigan

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Citizenship and Immigration Minister Kenney, at a September 10, 2012 Ottawa Press Conference, announced that Canada's investigation into residence fraud continues to grow, with nearly 11,000 individuals being investigated for possible Immigration fraud.

“We are applying the full strength of Canadian law to those who have obtained citizenship fraudulently,” said Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney. “Canadian citizenship is not for sale. We are taking action to strip citizenship and permanent residence status from people who don’t play by the rules and who lie or cheat to become a Canadian citizen.”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has begun the process to revoke the citizenship of up to 3,100 citizens who are believed to have obtained it fraudulently. Minister Kenney first announced the investigations last year. CIC is working closely with the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), and Canadian offices abroad to tackle this fraud.

“Today’s announcement is the end-result of the hard work done by the RCMP and CBSA, and they should be congratulated for their dedicated effort in bringing these charges forward,” said Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. “These efforts reinforce our government’s commitment to protecting the integrity of our immigration system.”

The Department has also been working on cases of those who have applied for Canadian Citizenship. Nearly 5,000 people with permanent resident status who are known to be implicated in residence fraud have been flagged for additional scrutiny should they attempt to enter Canada or obtain citizenship. The majority of these individuals are believed to be outside the country.

Permanent residents must reside in Canada for three years out of four years prior to applying for Canadian citizenship. To retain their status as permanent residents, they must be physically present in Canada for two out of five years with few exceptions.

Often facilitated by immigration consultants, this type of fraud has allowed foreigners to sponsor relatives and qualify for Canadian passports, benefits and the right to vote — all without ever having lived in Canada for any significant period.

In typical fraud cases, permanent residents will use the services of an unscrupulous immigration representative to fraudulently establish evidence of residence in Canada while living abroad most, if not all, of the time. This fraud is perpetrated so that individuals can fraudulently maintain their permanent residence status and later apply for citizenship. RCMP and CBSA criminal investigations have found that a family of five may pay upwards of $25,000 over four or more years to create the illusion of Canadian residence.

Dozens of charges have been laid, mostly against immigration consultants accused of helping clients defraud the government. Mr. Kenney has said consultants were collecting “upwards of $25,000” per family for this service, making it a multi-million dollar racket.

CIC has flagged the files of another 2,500 individuals where, for various reasons, there are concerns. These individuals will be watched closely should they make future applications. This makes a total of nearly 11,000 individuals tied to citizenship and residence fraud investigations.

To date, CIC and its partners have removed or denied admittance to more than 600 former permanent residents linked to the investigations. In addition CIC has denied about 500 citizenship applications where the applicants do not meet the residence requirements. Almost 1,800 applicants linked to the investigations have abandoned their citizenship applications as word about these investigations spreads.

“We will not stand by and allow people to lie and cheat their way into becoming citizens,” added Minister Kenney. “I encourage anyone who has information regarding citizenship fraud to call our tip line to report it. There is no time limit for investigating this type of fraud.”

Tip lines and other communication vehicles have been set up for the public to report suspected cases of Citizenship and Immigration fraud and violations of Canada’s Immigration laws.

Immigrants are required to actually live in Canada for a period of two years out of every five years to maintain their legal status.  Immigration officials have been documenting a growing number who only come to Canada long enough to get their immigration papers stamped.

The Immigrants then return to their home countries. Nonetheless, they pretend to be living in Canada so they can sponsor relatives and qualify for Canadian citizenship after three years. In some cases, those committing residence fraud have set up elaborate paper trails to give the appearance they are living in Canada.

A Government study indicates that, “Anecdotal evidence suggests that a percentage of applicants from the Middle East obtain permanent resident status, then Canadian citizenship, with the goal of acquiring a second passport as insurance in case of instability in their country of first residence.”

The study, released under the Access to Information Act to Vancouver lawyer Richard Kurland, found a significant level of fraud among permanent residents applying to sponsor family members in Lebanon.

Only legal residents of Canada can sponsor a relative to immigrate. However, the study said “up to a third of Lebanese sponsorship cases were suspect. In other words, the sponsors did not really reside in Canada but were pretending to in order to help their relatives acquire immigrant status.”

“The problem is also said to be acute in the Persian Gulf, with its high-paying jobs and business opportunities.”

“As a result,” reads another government report released to Mr. Kurland, “many permanent resident applicants are reluctant to leave the Gulf to settle in Canada permanently but want to obtain PR [Permanent Resident] status and citizenship for reasons of security, the future of their children and a potential doubling of their salary by virtue of holding a Canadian passport.” The Report also said a “significant” number of sponsorships were fraudulent.”

A common scenario involves immigrant families. While the spouse and children do live full-time in Canada, the breadwinner continues to work abroad but lies about it to immigration authorities to maintain Canadian status.

A source said the spike in the fraud numbers was also the result of a new case management system that alerts enforcement officials when a large number of immigrants give the same address as their home in Canada — which can be an indicator of residence fraud.

Many individuals are also not aware that CBSA keeps track of entries at Canadian airports and other points of entry.

Revoking permanent resident status from individuals who have committed fraud is fairly straight forward, but a Cabinet order is required to strip citizenship from a Canadian. Some individual’s are expected to fight the decision through the courts. Permanent Residents who have their status in Canada taken away do have a right of Appeal to the Immigration and Refugee Board Appeal Division. 

Permanent Residents and individuals who wish to apply for Canadian Citizenship should consult with a reputable Immigration lawyer or an Immigration consultant who is registered with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) as it remains the designated regulator of immigration consultants.

“There are a group of criminals who prey on immigrants,” said Phil Mooney, CEO of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, the agency to which all immigration consultants must now belong.

Since July 2011 it has been illegal for consultants to provide immigration services without being a council member. Mr. Mooney said the body had been working closely with the government to clean up the industry. Individuals who provide Immigration services without the required Memberships and regulatory obligations face penalties of up to $100,000 in fines and five years imprisonment for each count.

Only the following people may charge a fee or receive any other type of consideration, to represent or advise in connection with a Canadian immigration proceeding or application:

-lawyers and paralegals who are members in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society

-Notaries who are members in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec, and

-Immigration consultants who are members in good standing of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC)

The Government of Canada will not deal with non-authorized immigration representatives who charge for their services.

Individuals who are not paid for their services can also act as Representatives provided they have a signed Use of Representative Form authorizing them to be their representative.

Edward C. Corrigan is a lawyer certified as a Specialist in Citizenship and Immigration Law and Immigration and Refugee Protection by the Law Society of Upper Canada in London, Ontario, Canada. He can be reached at corriganlaw@corrigan.ca or at (519) 439-4015.

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