India vows to crack down on unscrupulous immigration agents
By Rick Westhead South Asia Bureau
Published On Fri Sep 10 2010
NEW DELHI—Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney visited India this week to discuss ways local police might be compelled to crack down on crooked travel consultants who sell the false promise that they can guarantee passage to Canada.
But as Kenney left the country on Friday after debating the NDPs Olivia Chow on Twitter over whether Canada refuses too many visa requests from Indian applicants the top cop in Indias Punjab state said there is no problem with policing and immigration fraud cases are investigated appropriately.
There is no such problem, said P.S. Gill, the director general of Punbajs police force. Immigration fraud cases that are there are being investigated properly. We have no difficulty.
Gills comments are curious because they came hours after Kenney said senior Indian government officials have promised to beef up penalties for unscrupulous immigration agents. The agents typically provide prospective university and college students as well as others with fake bank statements and other doctored documents to support their visa requests which are usually rejected.
Kenney said in an interview that Punjabi police have been half-hearted in their attempts to crack down on illegal immigration agents. Following a meeting in January 2009, Kenney expected police would appoint an envoy to work with Canadas diplomatic mission in Chandigarh, Punjabs state capital.
But since then, Kenney said, It seems to be hit and miss. There has been no ongoing work with our consulate in Punjab. There has been no ongoing work with our consulate . . . Its unbelievable whats going on up there.
Kenney said hes more optimistic now because he has received assurances from Home Minister P. Chidambaram, External Affairs Minister Preneet Kaur and Overseas Indians Minister Vyalar Ravi that the government here will introduce a law this year that will improve regulation of immigration agents.
Kenney said Canada has increased efforts to attract skilled labour from India. For many years, the vast majority of permanent resident visas given to India were in the so-called family class visa category. But thats changing.
In 2005, 55 per cent of the 27,193 permanent resident visas granted to Indians were family-class visas while 27 per cent were economic class visas given to skilled workers.
But from January to March 2010, family class visas accounted for 27 per cent of the 8,288 permanent resident visas issued, while economic class visas accounted for 71 per cent.
Statistics also show Canadas ties to India are broadening outside Punjab. In 2005, 41 per cent of permanent resident visas were given to Indians from Punjab. But during the first quarter of this year, that had slipped to 34 per cent.
As Kenney met with Indian officials here, Chow, the NDPs immigration critic, took to Twitter in Canada, writing that its unacceptable that one out of two Indians who apply at the Canadian mission in Chandigarh for a visitors visa are refused. Chow also wrote that only 29 per cent of student visas are approved.
Kenney fired back with his posts, writing 42 per cent of student visas are now approved in Chandigarh and that the overall approval rate there for visas is now 48 per cent.
Some Canadian diplomats have worried that using approval rates as benchmarks is dangerous territory.
If the refusal rate is 90 per cent because our immigration agents have determined 90 per cent of applicants are at risk to overstay or present other risks, then thats just what it should be, said a former Canadian diplomat posted in India. Its not something that should be used as a metric for success.
Kenney defended his online debate.
The reason I did it is because there are urban legends and unfair criticism of our officials, he said. Theres an urban myth in Canada that we reject 90 per cent of applicants from Punjab. Thats completely false and I wanted to demonstrate that.
And if the visa approval rate slips, Kenney said hes prepared to take responsibility for the decisions made and to defend them.