International students in fake marriage schemes to Canada

The newspaper ads in India are the visible tip of a booming underground industry in fake marriages involving would-be international students.

The prize for the “spouse” whose family buys an instant marriage with a foreign student is back-door access to a full-time job in Canada and a fast-track to citizenship.

The matrimonial ads normally promise that the foreign students’ sham marriage, plus all travel and study expenses, will be paid for by the Indian families who are determined to have their son or daughter emigrate.

The type of Indian student the ads seek is usually a teenage girl, who must have passed an English-language test and therefore be in line to be accepted as an international student.

Media outlets in India, such as the Hindustan Times, report there is a “booming matrimony market for ‘brides’ who can earn the ‘groom’” coveted status as a migrant to a Western country.

Canada is among the most sought-after destinations for Indian foreign students, say migration specialists, because it is the most generous toward foreign students and their spouses. Australia has also been popular, but recently tightened its rules.

Here is a typical recent ad from one Punjabi-language newspaper in India, Ajit:

“Jatt Sikh, boy, 24 years old, 5 feet 10 inches, needs girl with IELTS band 7. Marriage real or fake. Boy’s side will pay all expenses.”

The ad is listed by a high-caste “Jatt” Sikh male, or more likely his parents. It seeks a contractual marriage with a young woman who has scored well (“band 7”) on an international exam called “IELTS,” the International English Language Testing System. Almost three million IELTS exams are conducted each year.

Here is another ad, from the newspaper Jagbani:

“Barbar Sikh, 24, 5 feet 8 inches. Finished Grade 12. Looking for BSc or IELTS pass girl. Boy’s side will pay all expenses to go to Canada.”

In this ad the family of a lower-caste “Barbar Sikh” is seeking to have their son marry an Indian female with a bachelors of science degree, or a passing mark on the IELTS test, so their son can be allowed into Canada as her spouse.

As these kinds of ads illustrate, the parents of the male “spouse” typically offer to cover all expenses for the international student, who often end up attending one of the scores of private colleges in Canada with low to non-existent standards.

B.C. is home to 130,000 international students, the vast majority of whom are in Metro Vancouver, which has the highest concentration of foreign students in Canada.

In exchange for financing the foreign student, the phony spouse gets to live in Canada and legally work up to 40 hours a week, plus receive medical coverage and other benefits. That puts them in a strong position to become permanent residents of Canada.

The foreign-student marriage rackets are gaining attention in newspapers in India.

Indian media are reporting angry fallout when students financed by other families either fail to get into a Western college or university, or try to break up with their spouses of convenience.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University political scientist Shinder Purewal, a former Canadian citizenship court judge, says Punjabi- and Hindi-language newspapers in India run dozens of such ads each week.

“Families are looking for matches to get their sons or daughters abroad. And the most successful route to Canada is through international-student channels. It’s an easy way to get immigration,” said Purewal.

Metro Vancouver lawyer George Lee, a specialist in immigration law, confirms there has long been a global “black market” for fake marriages to aid migration.

Lee has at times seen matrimonial ads similar to the Indian ones on Chinese websites.

The Indian fake marriage ads normally lead to on-paper marriages that occur weeks before the couple travel to Canada, says Purewal, who urges Canadian immigration authorities to better monitor the supposed weddings.

One “positive” thing about the phony marriages, said Purewal, is they cause an Indian boy’s family to give a financial “dowry” to a girl’s family, rather than the other way around, which is more traditional.

Still, Purewal thinks the practise amounts to queue jumping and takes advantage of the liberality of Canadians who don’t understand immigration laws and their loopholes.

“Normally, these boys or girls are about 17 to 19 years of age. After three or four years of studying, and using a work permit, nearly all will become legal residents of Canada,” Purewal said.

“They can then get a divorce — and bring over real wives and husbands by the time they’re 22 or 23. It’s a business.”

Purewal said foreign students and their spouses typically stay in Canada for at least five years, with the strong majority getting their permanent resident status before that time.

“Any children born to such couples automatically become Canadian citizens,” he said. “And the cost of delivery of any medical expenses is born by Canadian taxpayers.”

The Hindustan Times reports grave difficulties arise for couples when “the foreign dreams fail to take off after marriage.”

Some young “married” students are not able to obtain a foreign student visa because of limited skills in English. Others fail their school programs in the Western country. “It is also not uncommon to find cases of women ditching grooms after finding better matches,” said the newspaper.

The Indian family that paid the student’s expenses then complains they have “shelled out a lot of rupees for nothing” and want the money returned. Sometimes, in the midst of such disputes, the newspaper says, the bride claims domestic violence.