News Local

Immigration crackdown may fuel fraudsters

By Byron Chu, QMI Agency Vancouver



Ottawa's move to revoke the citizenship of up to 3,100 people for fraudulent applications is a positive step, according to local immigration experts, but the crackdown may actually encourage more fraud if it diverts resources from legitimate applications.

"Integrity in the system does require some enforcement and double-checking," said Vancouver immigration lawyer Joshua Sohn, who also chairs the National Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association.

"But right now we're also dealing with cutbacks. Nineteen immigration offices within Canada have closed ... And we have these investigations for fraud which are necessary but it also means these applications will take longer because they're being examined more closely."

According to Sohn, it took eight to 12 months for his clients to obtain Canadian citizenship a few years ago. He now warns them it will take two years or even longer if there's any kind of investigation. The longer wait times can actually contribute to the problem of citizenship fraud, he said.

"The longer people have to wait, the more frustrated they become. The more tempted they are (to cheat the system)," said Sohn, emphasizing the need to balance stronger enforcement with processing efficiency.

According to the Immigration Canada website, it took 21 months to process 80% of all citizenship cases between April 2011 and March 2012.

The government has also flagged 5,000 permanent residents for alleged residence fraud and will watch for them entering the country or applying for citizenship. Another 2,500 people are also under scrutiny for problems with their files.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland said he has already received email from lawyers in Asia seeking his assistance in the wake of the crack down.

"It seems a chord has been struck," said Kurland, who believes the lawyers represent Asia-based clients who falsely claimed to be residents of B.C. on their applications for citizenship or permanent residency.

"I think one way (for them) to go is in exchange for no criminal charges, a voluntary relinquishment of citizenship. That will save everyone a ton of money."