Immigration consultants are up in arms against a plan by the government in the Indian state of Punjab — a large source of Canada’s immigrants and international students — to create an agency that will stream students to Canadian universities and colleges.
The tension came to light via an invitation that was declined by the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants (CAPIC), which represents over 4,000 members, to a roundtable discussion with the Punjab government.
NCM has learned that CAPIC declined the Nov. 17 meeting after a series of exchanged emails between the two parties raised fears that the Indian state (similar to Canada’s provinces) is trying to create its own “para-governmental” consultancy agency.
According to reporting by the Globe and Mail, 105,192 Indian students “were enrolled in Canadian universities and colleges in the 2018-2019 school year, the most recent period for which data are available.” That same year, 150,000 students left the state of Punjab seeking education abroad (not just in Canada). Brampton, the Globe and Mail reports, is home to the largest Punjabi diaspora in Canada. Most students from India enroll in college programs, rather than universities, the paper reported.
Dory Jade, the CEO of CAPIC, said the Punjab government wants to become the sole agency that recruits students from the state to study in places like Canada.
If that happens, Jade told NCM, the state government would effectively “take their citizens (international students) hostage” by forcing them to only apply through the government.
“We’re going to get the largest unauthorized representative group ever created,” Jade asserts.
The Nov. 17 meeting was apparently called to “understand how an Indian candidate with foreign country competency-based training in India (with or without formal qualification) can serve the demand in the ‘Country of destination’ [Canada],” according to a description of the Zoom event.
That invitation was found advertised on the Facebook page of the Study Abroad Consultants Association (SACA), described as a “group of reputed & Punjab Govt. Approved Agent (sic).” Their website states they’re “committed to find ways to improve public image of profession (sic).”
SACA did not respond to requests for comment sent to their official Facebook page.
CAPIC declined the invitation for the Nov. 17 meeting because, in their view, there was a “hidden agenda” that had not been revealed to the rest of people invited..
According to Jade, the government first said they “wanted to see how to…be an authorized [immigration] practitioner.” CAPIC told them they needed legislation by the Punjab government making it an offence to be an unauthorized immigration representative.
But it soon became clear to Jade that they were trying to cover the entire market, not just join it. In a follow-up email to NCM, Jade said the Punjab government representatives wanted CAPIC to facilitate connections between them and Canadian Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) “because CAPIC has key members with the necessary industry knowledge who could close such agency agreements.” The Punjab government wanted a list of DLI administration staff that could reach out to.
“They didn’t tell (invitees) about that piece…which is the masterpiece of everything,” he says.
Jade says in one of their exchanges with a Punjab government official, they even admitted “that the money they collect from (DLI) commissions will subsidize the agency.”
Through a letter posted on CAPIC’s website, Jade also urged the CEO of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), John Murray, to decline the meeting, citing “concerns regarding the approach and program promoted by the [Punjab] government representatives connected to this event.”
The ICCRC is the regulatory body that licenses and regulates Canadian immigration consultants. CAPIC is the advocacy association that lobbies on behalf of the consultants.
“We don’t have to tell what other governments have to do. It’s not our job,” he says. “But if we see something that is going wrong, we will not support it.”
Murray was not immediately available for comment, and as of publishing, it is not clear whether the ICCRC attended or not.
Business of recruiting students
Jade says if the Punjab government had gotten a hold of the DLI contacts, it would compromise the independence of the institutions and Canada’s immigration system.
Jade says DLIs “are at capacity” when it comes to international students, so they “don’t need more agencies” to help recruit. If DLIs do end up accepting business from the Punjab government’s planned agency, it could hurt their credibility among Canadians, particularly if it comes to light that the main motivation is the commissions that these post-secondary institutions receive.
“It’s going to kill the democratization of recruitment,” says Jade.
Zool Suleman, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, says it could also add confusion, more bureaucracy and costs “if additional fees in Punjab are involved for students,” he wrote in an email.
“The marketing of Canadian education in the Punjab is rife with abuse. Students are often misled, overcharged, and taken advantage of,” he says.
The move would also crowd out Canadian immigration consultants both at home and abroad. Apart from infringing on licensed immigration consultants’ “role under federal [Canadian] law” – which says only licensed consultants and immigration lawyers can give immigration advice – it removes all independence from the profession, Jade argues.
“The government of Punjab having an agency will never be independent, because the agency would have to respond to the Punjab government guidelines and rules,” he says.
Finally, Jade says, the ICCRC will also be affected financially and reputationally if the plan goes ahead, with or without their endorsement, especially if it fails to influence the Punjab government not to go ahead with it.
On Nov. 23, the ICCRC will become the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CICC) under the authority of the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act. With new powers to take action against unlicensed practitioners in Canada and overseas, it is expected that it will crack down on unauthorized consultants.
The Punjab government’s plans, however, may put a damper on that. According to Jade, the Punjab government has made it explicitly clear to CAPIC that they intend to move forward with their para-governmental agency.
On the other hand, says Suleman, if the plan “leads to the government in Punjab stopping unauthorized consultants in Punjab, it could be helpful.”
But “we need more transparency about what the government in Punjab is planning and its impacts on the Canadian student visa pathways,” he says.
Fernando Arce, born and raised in Ecuador, is a Toronto-based independent multimedia journalist, an active NCM-CAJ member and mentor. His work is devoted to amplifying the voices of the grassroots and working classes as well as those of Indigenous Peoples resisting colonialism around the world. He has written in both English and Spanish from across Canada, Venezuela, Mexico and Ecuador. He has a BA in Political Science from York University and an MA in Journalism from Western University.