Canada will freeze the planned deportation of dozens of students who entered the country using fraudulent university letters of acceptance, Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said on Wednesday.
Fraser spoke after the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported in March that several students from India had been served deportation papers for using forged documents to enter Canada in an alleged immigration scheme.
The acceptance letters appeared to have been written by universities but the Canada Border Services Agency informed the students the documents were fake and warned them that they could face deportation, according to the CBC report.
Students say they were unaware the documents were forged and have blamed the alleged fraud on the India-based immigration agents who helped them apply. Advocates and the students have petitioned for a halt to the deportations.
Fraser told reporters that a special task force would look at every case of a student who had been told to leave. He did not give an exact number of people facing deportation.
"Any pending removals will be halted in the interim and there will be a temporary permission to stay over the course of this period of consideration," he said.
Official data show there were more than 800,000 foreign students with active visas in Canada in 2022. Of those, some 320,000 were from India.
Canada is a popular destination for international students since it is relatively easy to obtain a work permit.
Students who spoke to the CBC said that after they entered Canada, the agents contacted them to say they could not attend the institution which had supposedly written the acceptance letter. Instead, they were redirected to private colleges.
They said the fraud was detected when they completed their courses and then either applied for work permits or for permission to stay in Canada.
"Those international students who are genuine applicants that came to Canada to study and were victimized by fraudsters will be given permission to remain in Canada," said Fraser.
"Those who are complicit in a fraudulent scheme will be held accountable," he continued, saying authorities would be looking for evidence of people who came to Canada and started to work immediately rather than studying.
Canada, which has a population of around 39.5 million people, plans to take in a record 500,000 new permanent residents in 2025.
The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change has been supporting the students, saying they have spent years in Canada.
"Today's announcement seems like a temporary step in the right direction. What is urgently needed is a permanent solution through regularization of these students and all undocumented people who through no fault of their own have been deprived of their rights," organizer Sarom Rho said.
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