Study visa scam in Canada puts Indian students’ careers in jeopardy

Hundreds of Indian overseas students say they have been tricked into joining fake and sub-standard universities abroad.

Published : Jun 13, 2023 16:51 IST - 3 MINS READ

Many teaching experts are putting the blame on so-called education counsellors who are often linked to substandard institutions.

Many teaching experts are putting the blame on so-called education counsellors who are often linked to substandard institutions. | Photo Credit: picture-alliance/dpa/Oliver Berg

More than 700 college students from India are currently facing deportation from Canada after their college acceptance letters—which were used to apply for Canadian study visas almost four years ago—were found to be fake.

The Canadian government has put the students’ deportations on hold for the moment after New Delhi raised the issue with Ottawa. However, many of the students say they are being victimised by fraud committed by visa agents and education counsellors.

Risk of deportation, students protest

The issue first came to light in March after several students in Canada applied for permanent residency after completing their studies and the Canadian border agency discovered that their documents were fake.

“This is not our fault at all. Look at the hardships we students have faced,” Randhir Kapoor, a student in Toronto, told DW. “If there are now investigations into cases of misrepresentation, including those related to study permits, why was it not checked then… why now?”

Also Read | Students or migrants?

Lucrative business for education agents

Teaching experts are putting the blame on so-called education counsellors who come to India every year in an effort to lure students abroad—for a hefty fee. The counsellors are often linked to substandard institutions, and not all of their clients are looking for an education.

“Many of them are looking for migration pathway,” media educator Rakesh Batabyal told DW. “There is no due diligence on either side as education is a profitable business.”

Pramod Kumar, director of the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC) in Chandigarh, said that the vetting of insitutions failed. “Canada’s education regulatory organisation put the list of certified educational institutions in the public domain and the authorised agents in India issued a certificate that the concerned institution is in the published list of the Canadian regulator,” Kumar told DW.

Kumar suggested that immigration authorities should deny visas for courses at institutions that are not on the list of approved establishments. There have also been suggestions that the counsellors themselves should come under increased scrutiny. But not everybody agrees with this.

“Clamping down on overseas education agents is unlikely to work, since much of this can be done remotely online,” Gautam Menon, Dean of Research at Ashoka University, told DW. “Approved universities directly communicating with visa offices with their lists of admitted candidates may be a better option.”

Crackdown on overseas students

Indian students now study in 240 countries, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Canada, Australia, the UK, and the US remain the top choices, but sizeable numbers are also travelling to Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Russia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

In 2022, India surpassed China to become the country with the most international students in the United States. In May, at least five Australian universities placed restrictions on applications from Indian students from the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.

Similarly, the United Kingdom government recently announced a new immigration crackdown targeted at overseas students, including Indians. Britain has been trying to curb migration numbers for a while and is working to prevent people from using student visas as a backdoor to working in the UK. Student visas accounted for the largest proportion of migration to the UK with 4,86,000 issued in 2022.

“Given the large number of students that leave India for education abroad, does a call for regulation of agents as these students are often ignorant of breaches they are making in going abroad,” Swaran Singh, professor of international studies, told DW. “There is also an urgent need to enforce connections of these students with Indian missions abroad where most stipulations remain only on paper.”

As part of their investigation into fraudulent college admissions, authorities have so far arrested a travel agent from Punjab who is accused of forging dozens of international students’ documents.

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