Nisha Rani was raised by her mother and brothers in the northern Indian city of Ludhiana after her father died when she was a teenager. After graduating from college, she wanted to give back to her family. Rani, now 28, wanted to immigrate to Canada on a student visa in order to settle permanently in the country, find work and support her family financially.
Instead, her visa application was denied and she lost thousands of dollars after falling victim to an alleged fraudulent international student recruitment scheme.
“When my visa was rejected after all the hassle I had to go through, it left me in immense pain,” Rani said from her home in Punjab province. She says she had suicidal thoughts after the ordeal. “I had carefully nurtured my dream of going to Canada for years – just like a mother raising a child.”
Rani is one of hundreds of foreign students whose education has been put on hold by a Quebec investigation into private college recruitment methods.
After earning her Bachelor of Education, Rani passed her IELTS (International Education Language Testing System) exam with a mark of 6.5, which was good enough to apply to public and private colleges in Canada. His immigration consultant recommended that he enroll in a private institution, College M in Montreal, Quebec. His family took out a loan and paid nearly C$15,000 in fees. While waiting for her visa, she took online classes at M College for 10 months, studying through the night to adjust to the 12-hour time difference between Ludhiana and Montreal. Then she learned last August that her Quebec acceptance certificate was no longer valid.
M College was still collecting fees from Rani eight months after the Quebec government suspended it from accepting students. In December 2020, an investigation into M College and nine other Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) was launched to examine questionable recruitment practices, leaving thousands of international students under dark clouds of uncertainty.
Collège M, Collège CDE in Sherbrooke and Collège CCSQ in Longueuil filed for protection against their creditors. The three colleges are all owned by the Mastantuono family – under the name RPI Group.
In February, the High Commission of India tweeted that it had been approached by several Indian students affected by the “closure of these institutions”, and that it was in close contact with the federal government and the provincial government of the Quebec and elected Canadian representatives of the Indian community. . The commission told students to contact Quebec’s Ministry of Higher Education if they had trouble getting refunds and advised students to check credentials from foreign colleges before making payments.
Please see our notice to Indian students affected by the closure of three colleges in Quebec, [email protected]@meaMADAD @MEAIndia @EduMinOfIndia @Quebec_India pic.twitter.com/S9kwlPwqGx— India in Canada (@HCI_Ottawa)
After mass protests in Jalandhar, Punjab province, as well as in Montreal, an immigration consulting agency has refunded full fees to some students, but more than 500 other students like Rani are currently fighting in front of the courts to recover their money.
Rani’s initial application to study in Canada was approved in principle, but after the M college audit began, her visa was rejected. Immigration and Refugee Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said she was ineligible to enter Canada due to her “educational background”. In response to questions from New Canadian Media, IRCC said private colleges under investigation for “recruitment fraud” continue to be dealt with, but will be subject to further scrutiny.
“Additional checks and verifications may be required by officers in order to make final decisions in these cases,” IRCC said in an email. Immigration officials acknowledged that prior to the fraud investigation, only a small fraction of students who received initial permission to study in Canada were denied visas.
For example, more than 49,000 applicants received first-stage approval for study in fall 2020, and only 90 were ultimately denied, according to IRCC.
Rani’s case highlights the questionable practices of immigration consultants in India. She was among eight people interviewed by NCM this month who were affected by the investigation into fraud in Quebec’s private college system.
“When we approached these students from the outskirts of Montreal, they were in a very bad state emotionally. They had nowhere to go and no support in this foreign land,” said Varun Khanna.
Khanna, co-founder of the Montreal Young Students Organization (MYSO), said the group advocates for student interests by writing letters to elected officials in India and Canada.
Thousands of consultants from the Indian state of Punjab are part of the Association of Overseas Education Consultants (ACOS). Although the association has a code of ethics, the industry is largely unregulated and consultants do not have to be legally certified.
“There is a hidden competition between these consultants as to who generates the maximum income and I don’t think they care where the student is going to study or what the future of these students is,” a source said. immigration consultant who has over a decade of experience in recruiting students to Canada and India. NCM agreed not to release his name but verified his identity so he could speak candidly about the inner workings of the system.
The consultant claims that a recruiter receives a 20% commission for enrolling a student in a private college, more than double the rate of enrollment in a public institution.
“What happened in Quebec didn’t surprise me one bit,” said the consultant. It shows a photo of college principal Caroline Mastantuono posing with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Three private colleges currently under investigation were once run by Mastantuono.
Mastantuono operated these colleges under his recruiting firm Rising Phoenix International. She had previously worked at the Lester B. Pearson School Board for 27 years until she was fired in 2016 under a cloud of controversy.
According to RPI’s court filings for creditor protection earlier this year, each student paid up to $30,000 to attend their colleges. 633 students requested refunds totaling $6.4 million. In addition, $5 million in tuition fees were paid by students awaiting a decision on their study permit application. A month after requesting tuition for the next semester, the colleges filed for creditor protection.
Sukhman Singh, a student at M College, says his immigration consultant advised him to pay his third semester fees at the start of his second semester. When questioning the “exorbitant fees,” Singh said college officials threatened to cut off access to their online learning platforms.
“We don’t have a lot of money in our pockets. We work part-time to repay our student loans – how do you justify this behavior? Singh asks.
According to the latest statistics for 2019, Indians make up 34% of the more than 642,000 international students in Canada, well ahead of China’s 22%.
That same year, more than 13,000 Indians obtained a study permit in Quebec, an incredible increase of 500% compared to two years earlier, as reported for the first time by Radio-Canada.
Another reason why the province is an attractive destination for international students is that it is easier to obtain a work permit in Quebec.
According to a survey by the Canadian Bureau for International Education, 60% of international students intend to apply for permanent residence. The Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) for international students is an essential document to obtain permanent residency. If students want permanent residency, they must choose a field of study that will eventually earn them enough points through Canada’s Express Entry immigration system.
To be admitted to public post-secondary institutions, students must achieve an IELTS score of 6 and above, but private colleges admit students with scores below 6, making them more accessible to overseas students. Also, students at private colleges in Ontario are not eligible for a PWGP, but they are in Quebec.
MYSO calls on the regional and national governments of both countries to take action. MYSO has staged protests demanding refunds for students in Montreal and Jalandhar and hopes the newly elected will fix the recruitment system.
In the state of Punjab, the Aam Aadmi party was elected and formed a majority government and relative newcomer Bhagwant Mann was sworn in as chief minister.
“On the Punjab side, we expect a lot from this new AAP government and Bhagwant Mann to increase vigilance on these consultations and the ACOS body. Our protests in Punjab continue,” Khanna said.
In the meantime, the group also hopes to meet with Jagmeet Singh to raise awareness of the issue in Canada.
Read NCM’s policy on the use of pseudonymous or anonymous sources here.
This story was produced as part of NCM’s mentorship program. Mentor: Judy Trinh
Vrunda Bhatt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canadian New Media