Scammed from Punjab to Canada: How students can avoid the same fate

Punjab to Canada study scams
A booming international recruitment market in rural Punjab promising easy study and immigration paths to Canada reveals countless of horror stories on exploitation. Source: Narinder Nanu/AFP

Not all good promises touted with a foreign education are true: it could be a one-way ticket to a nightmare in an unfamiliar place. This is the reality of many exploited students who are victims of the Punjab to Canada recruitment business, whose hopes and sacrifices are dashed for others’ profits.

Recent reports from multiple Canadian media sources have highlighted the ignored plight of Punjabi students who arrive in the country. With unchecked agencies overseas flourishing to fill the coffers of international recruitment, it’s international students that pay the price, leaving them vulnerable, destitute, and even dead.

In a shocking shocking exposé about the seedy reality of international student recruitment to Canada by The Walrus last year, the article highlighted how rural Punjab has become a hot market for recruiters to line their pockets through commissions. This includes pushing students toward certain colleges and universities and giving false information about tuition fees.

The Canadian schools benefit from these schemes too, seeing as international tuition are significantly higher than domestic fees.

Most of the students from Punjab fit a certain profile: young and educated working-class hopefuls who seek greater opportunities in the wider world. With the study-and-immigrate route dangled in front of them, agents somehow convince what would normally be years of hard work and an even longer wait seem like a breeze.

By the time these students realise the gravity of their situation in Canada, there is no way back, and they are forced by their situation to take up menial jobs where they are vulnerable to mistreatment.

“The whole business has become student trafficking,” Gautham Kolluri, an Indian former international student with his own consulting business told The Walrus. “The losing side is international students. If they don’t get the correct guidance, their whole life is messed up.”

Punjab to Canada scams: Common tactics and how to spot them

It’s not always easy to spot seasoned swindlers, and some may even have legitimate fronts, obscuring crucial information here and there to fuel a beautiful dream. The sales pitch works because there’s a grain of truth to it; many students do successfully become immigrants in Canada, and its large Punjabi diaspora give a false sense of security that you’re not alone.

If you’re a student in Punjab or elsewhere seeing scores of billboards and advertisements selling the Canadian dream, here are some things you can do to separate fake news from real help:

Ask questions relentlessly

When education or travel agents promise admission letters, visas, and guaranteed scholarship, how are they getting them in the first place? Keep in mind that studying abroad in Canada and other Western are very costly for international students.

Tuition fees alone are at least three times higher than what domestic students pay, so if the numbers are too good to be true, they probably aren’t. Scholarships from colleges or universities won’t normally cover everything you need abroad, and loan schemes should be avoided entirely unless you can verify that the source is trustworthy.

Ask agents specific questions about enrolment, and whether they know the nitty-gritty details of courses and grading systems. Evasion tactics are clues that third-party agents are not there to assist you, but are looking to secure commissions.

Go straight to the source

In Canada, you need to apply to a college or university under the designated learning institution (DLI) list to get your study permit approved. Any institution missing from the list are either unaccredited, or are probably don’t exist. Considering the amount of colleges that have closed down abruptly recently, this is a crucial step before putting your applications in.

Always check with the institution directly on admissions and scholarship offers. You can go to the their website and email the admissions office. Unless there’s an official letter or email confirming your enrolment and financial aid, don’t take anyone else’s word for it.

The same thing goes for study permit applications and airfares. Check with your local High Commission of Canada about visa requirements and processing, and book flights directly with an airline company to avoid cheap airfare scams.

Join online international student groups

While there are many student groups that aren’t very helpful, connecting with international students who are already in Canada can tell you a lot about the study abroad journey. Chances are, they might’ve gone through the same confusion and ordeal that you’re facing. It’s especially helpful to contact other students from your region if language is a barrier, as that would make expressing your concerns easier.

What to do if you’re already a victim

If you’ve been swindled by agents and are now trapped in a difficult situation, know that you’re not alone. There are a number of groups and organisations that you can reach out to for a number of services, including with immigration, mental health, and getting food supplies:

  • Migrant Students United: An Ontario-based organisation that advocates for foreign student workers against exploitation.
  • Naujawan Support Network: Based in Brampton, Ontario, this largely Punjabi-run network that help international students against exploitation, and has even helped wronged students win lawsuit cases.
  • No One Is Illegal: If your legal status is precarious, or if you’re facing the possibility of deportation, this group consists of grassroots activists throughout Canada that can connect you with the right resource to help you out.
  • Crisis Services Canada: The national suicide prevention service, which lists numerous support and crisis hotlines throughout the country.
  • Distress Centres of Greater Toronto: This multilingual crisis helpline in Toronto offers services in eight languages, including Punjabi and Urdu.