What Karamjeet Kaur wanted most when she arrived in Canada in 2018 was to live independently and be treated like everybody else.
But after completing post-secondary studies in Edmonton and holding down a job for years, the 24-year-old woman from India now faces expulsion.
An admission letter to an Ontario college, which helped her get her study permit, turned out to be fake. The letter was procured by an immigration agent.
Kaur says she only learned the letter wasn’t real last year when she was applying to stay in Canada permanently.
“It all happened because we trust[ed] someone,” Kaur said in an interview this month.
Kaur grew up in a small community in Punjab in northern India. A childhood accident left her with limited blood circulation on her right side, she said, which can make it difficult to move her right arm and leg.
“There was so much discrimination, especially with the women, and I was a disabled woman so I face a lot of discrimination,” Kaur said.
She attracted stares wherever she went and was harassed by classmates at school, she said.
Her disability made it unlikely she’d ever be able to get a good job or find a spouse in India, she said.
Her family decided to seek out the help of an immigration agent.
Her father, as head of the family, handled the discussions, she said. The agent took payment and Kaur’s information.
Neither Kaur’s father, a farmer, or her mother, a homemaker, has more than a Grade 10 level education. The family did not own a computer and had little insight into immigration processes, says Kaur’s lawyer, Manraj Sidhu.
Three days before her flight to Canada in April 2018, the agent returned and provided Kaur with an acceptance letter from Seneca College in Toronto.
Journey to Canada
Kaur made the trip, presenting the letter to border officials who approved it and granted her a study permit.
The immigration agent contacted Kaur once she was in Ontario and told her the placement at Seneca wasn’t available anymore as he had severed his relationship with the college.
He encouraged her to enrol in an expensive private college, but instead Kaur applied and was accepted at Norquest College in Edmonton.
At first, it was difficult to adjust to a new country, but eventually she found a job as a cashier, Kaur said.
She has friends, and in June 2020 graduated from Norquest with a diploma in business administration management.
“I don’t get any discrimination from this country. Like, I feel as a normal person,” Kaur said.
Her plan to stay in Canada long term was going according to plan until she applied for permanent residency.
On May 25, 2021, a Canada Border Services Agency employee told her the Seneca College letter was fraudulent.
Kaur said she was shocked by the revelation. She and her family didn’t know much about the immigration process and had trusted the agent.
Hiring immigration agents is a common practice for people in her community who hope to move abroad, she said.
Predatory immigration agents taking advantage of people hoping to come to or stay in Canada is common, says Marco Luciano, director of Migrante Alberta.
“It’s a billion dollar industry. These consultants or third parties have really taken advantage of this industry of migration,” he said.
“The bottom line is everybody has to do their research prior to letting an immigration consultant or a recruiter handle their documents,” he said.
Luciano said the recent establishment of the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants has helped bring more oversight to the issue, but he said much more needs to be done.
Story found credible
Kaur made her case at a hearing before the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada on Jan. 19, but the decision-maker overseeing the hearing sided with the lawyer for the federal minister of public safety and issued an exclusion order.
Once she leaves, Kaur will not be allowed to return to Canada for five years.
“I do find that her testimony was credible; there’s nothing in her testimony that would suggest to me that she didn’t genuinely believe she was admitted to Seneca College,” the decision-maker said, according to a transcript of the hearing.
But as an adult who had managed to make her way to Canada in the first place, Kaur should have taken steps to verify her status at Seneca herself, the decision said.
“In fact, in my view, it would be reasonable for a student to reach out to their school upon admission instead of relying completely on an immigration consultant.”
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokespeople confirmed that Kaur is facing an exclusion order, but declined a request for an interview.
Uphill legal battle
Kaur’s lawyer has applied for leave to seek a judicial review to have the order overturned.
Sidhu said his client faces an uphill battle legally.
“It is very unreasonable for the decision-maker to expect a disabled woman from rural India who never had a phone, who never had a bank account, who was never left to her house without the supervision of her parents — she never had access to any sort of internet — to expect her to contact the college authorities herself and find out if her letter of acceptance is real or not,” he said.
Upon discovering the letter was fake, Kaur asked her father to report the agent to police in India.
Documents from the High Court of Punjab and Haryana which Sidhu provided to CBC show the agent is under investigation for the fraudulent letter and taking money from Kaur’s family.
The agent is out of jail despite having his bail revoked and has been contacting Kaur’s family and threatening them, Kaur and Sidhu said.
He is also warning Kaur against returning to India and testifying, she said.
“I don’t think . . . police are going to save me from that person.”
Sidhu plans to file a second application seeking to allow Kaur to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
Kaur is not only frightened about returning to India, she’s worried about losing what Canada has given her.
“I can do my stuff [on] my own here,” she said. “I don’t want to be dependent on others.”