On 14 February 2023, CBC News Edmonton published the story of 25-year-old Karamjeet Kaur, a disabled Indian student who faces removal from Canada due to a fake letter of admission to Seneca College in Toronto submitted as part of her 2018 student visa application.

Karamjeet is from a low income family in India. Her father is a farmer and her mother takes care of the home and family. They live in the Punjab region of northern India. In 2017, Karamjeet and her family decided that she should go to Canada to study, in part because of a physical disability that limits her movement and made her the target of discrimination and harassment in her home community. 

Karamjeet’s family – who do not have access to computers, or any experience with the immigration system – engaged an immigration agent to help with the admission and visa process. In 2018 the agent receommended that Karamjeet study at Seneca College. He then prepared the study permit application, using a fraudulent admission letter from Seneca College, which Karamjeet and her family throught was genuine. Karamjeet did not sign the study permit application. Instead it was signed by the dishonest education agent and Karamjeet’s male cousin.

Karamjeet was granted a study permit on the basis of the fraudulent application and she arrived in Canada in April 2018. Immediately her Indian agent advised her that the classes she applied for had been cancelled and there was no point going to Seneca. The dishonest education agent then pushed Karamjeet off to another agent, and she was eventually able to gain admission to another college.

In 2021 a Canada Border Services Agency investigation uncovered the fake letter of admission to Seneca, leading to legal action by the Canadian Government to remove Karamjeet from the country on the basis of the tainted study permit application.

In January 2021 Canada’s immigration board found that Karamjeet’s story and evidence was credible and that there was “nothing in her testimony that would lead [the board] to believe that she did not honestly believe that she had been admitted to Seneca College.” But the board also found that she should have made her own inquiries to confirm her admission at Seneca rather than relying on the education agent. On that basis the board issued an exclusion order against Karamjeet requiring her to leave Canada.

Karamjeet sought judicial review of the decision, but in February 2023 her application was dismissed by Canada’s Federal Court, which found that the immigration board’s decision was reasonable. In her decision Justice Ann Marie McDonald stated:

The applicant placed her trust in an immigration consultant and was deceived. However, these circumstances do not absolve the applicant from the consequences of her misrepresentation.

Karamjeet’s last hope to remain in Canada is an application for humanitarian and compassionate consideration, which is available in exceptional cases to people who do not qualify under other grounds. She is understandably anxious:

I have support in this difficult time. Everybody [is] trying to support me. I’m hoping I will be OK.

Karamjeet’s lawyer is concerned for her safety if she is forced to return to India. When the fake letter of admission to Seneca College was discovered, her family filed a complaint with police in India, and the agent was arrested and charged. He disappeared while on bail. Karamjeet and her family have received threats that she will be harmed if she testifies against the agent.

A familiar story

Sadly, Karamjeet’s story is not unique. Stories of international students and their families being misled, ripped off, and victimized by dishonest education agents are all too common in all of the main international student source and destination countries. For example, in late 2022 CBC investigative journalism program, The Fifth Estate, shone a light on international student recruitment in Canada, including the role of education agents and aggregators. CBC’s hidden cameras caught multiple agents making misrepresentations about living, working and studying in Canada. In Australia, a 60 Minutes story on human trafficking, and a parallel series of media articles, implicated education agents in facilitating the trafficking of international students into the sex industry.

Educational institutions, education agents and duty of care

Education agents play a critical role in the international education ecosystem. Most education agent are professional and honest and provide a good service to support students and their families with one of the most important life decisions the students will make.

But an unprofessional or dishonest education agent can cause devastation – crushing dreams, causing emotional trauma, and inflicting financial ruin on low income families in developing countries.

Educational institutions that work with education agents benefit from the resulting international student enrollments and fee revenue. With those benefits comes a duty of care to students ensure – to the greatest extent possible – that the institution’s international student recruitment channel is ethical.

A key aspect of meeting that duty of care is implementing best practice education agent due diligence. Education agent due diligence is embedded in regulatory regimes in Australia, New Zealand and Manitoba. In other destination countries self-regulatory frameworks on education agent management – most of which include agent due diligence measures – have evolved significantly in recent years – see for example frameworks from BUILA (UK), and AIRC (US).

Implement best practice education agent due diligence

AgentBee’s education agent due diligence solution supports educational institutions to implement best practice education agent due diligence processes.

Educational institutions can use it to:

  • do due diligence on education agents – check new agents before agreeing to work with them, and run regular checks on current agents.
  • protect your brand – detect cases of unauthorised agents using your institution’s name, logo or other IP without permission.

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Source: CBC News (Paige Parsons)