Stewart Bell | Sep 9, 2012 9:24 PM ET
More from Stewart Bell
A widening federal crackdown has identified a record number of people suspected of acquiring their Canadian citizenship and immigration status through fraud, according to a government source.
The number of newcomers under investigation for misrepresenting themselves in their dealings with Citizenship and Immigration Canada has ballooned to an historic 11,000 as a result of nation-wide enforcement.
The figure is almost double the 6,500 identified by federal officials less than a year ago, suggesting that Canada’s citizenship and immigration fraud problems may be more widespread than previously thought.
Often facilitated by immigration consultants, this type of fraud has allowed foreigners to sponsor relatives and qualify for Canadian passports, benefits and the right to vote — all without ever having lived in Canada for any significant period.
Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, was expected to brief reporters on the new figures on Monday. A source said he would announce that officials were stripping 2,900 Canadians of their citizenship for fraud.
The announcement comes nine months after Mr. Kenney said his department was working with the Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP to combat the problem, and vowed to prosecute those involved and strip them of their Canadian status.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a percentage of applicants from the Middle East obtain permanent resident status, then Canadian citizenship, with the goal of acquiring a second passport as insurance
Since then, dozens of charges have been laid, mostly against immigration consultants accused of helping clients defraud the government. Mr. Kenney has said consultants were collecting “upwards of $25,000” per family for this service, making it a multi-million dollar racket.
At least 5,000 of the 11,000 now under investigation are permanent residents suspected of committing residence fraud, which occurs when an immigrant claims to have moved to Canada but actually continues to live abroad.
Immigrants are required to actually live in Canada to maintain their status. But officials have been documenting a growing number who only come to Canada long enough to get their immigration papers stamped.
They then return to their home countries. Nonetheless, they pretend to be living in Canada so they can sponsor relatives and qualify for Canadian citizenship after three years. In some cases, those committing residence fraud have set up elaborate paper trails to give the appearance they are living in Canada.
Many of those involved in the scam are from the Middle East, particularly Lebanon. While they do not wish to actually move to Canada, they want an escape hatch in the event their home countries become unstable, according to internal documents.
“Anecdotal evidence suggests that a percentage of applicants from the Middle East obtain permanent resident status, then Canadian citizenship, with the goal of acquiring a second passport as insurance in case of instability in their country of first residence,” reads a federal study.
[M]any permanent resident applicants are reluctant to leave the Gulf to settle in Canada permanently but want to obtain PR [Permanent Resident] status and citizenship for reasons of security
The study, released under the Access to Information Act to Vancouver lawyer Richard Kurland, found a significant level of fraud among permanent residents applying to sponsor family members in Lebanon.
Only residents of Canada can sponsor a relative to immigrate. But the study said up to a third of Lebanese sponsorship cases were suspect. In other words, the sponsors did not really reside in Canada but were pretending to in order to help their relatives acquire immigrant status.
The problem is also said to be acute in the Persian Gulf, with its high-paying jobs and business opportunities.
“As a result,” reads another government report released to Mr. Kurland, “many permanent resident applicants are reluctant to leave the Gulf to settle in Canada permanently but want to obtain PR [Permanent Resident] status and citizenship for reasons of security, the future of their children and a potential doubling of their salary by virtue of holding a Canadian passport.” It said a “significant” number of sponsorships were fraudulent.
A common scenario involves immigrant families. While the spouse and children do live full-time in Canada, the breadwinner continues to work abroad but lies about it to immigration authorities to maintain Canadian status. Investigators have been identifying such cases partly through a recently-established telephone tip line.
A source said the spike in the fraud numbers was also the result of a new case management system that alerts enforcement officials when a large number of immigrants give the same address as their home in Canada — which can be an indicator of residence fraud.
Revoking permanent resident status from fraudsters is fairly straight forward, but a Cabinet order is required to strip citizenship from a Canadian. Some are expected to fight the decision through the courts.