International students are stranded as Quebec investigates vocational programs at Pearson board
Dozens of international students are in limbo after being rejected by the Quebec immigration department because of alleged irregularities in vocational programs at Lester B. Pearson School Board.
“There are hundreds of students who are here,” said an immigration consultant who recruits students from India to attend vocational schools in Quebec.
“Some of them paid half their fees, which is in the thousands,” said the consultant, who asked his name not be published for fear of reprisals.
The students paid deposits on tuition fees to LBP Vocational College, but the Pearson school board claims not to have received them, he said.
“When they go to the school, the school is saying: ‘We didn’t receive the money,’ he said.
Pearson’s International Studies Program has posted a prominent warning on its website telling international vocational students to make payments to Lester B. Pearson School Board, not to LBP Vocational College, which it describes as “a privately owned enterprisewith no affiliation” to the board.
Vocational programs for international students at the Pearson and English Montreal School Boards have come under scrutiny as provincial auditors and Quebec’s anti-corruption squad probe alleged irregularities at the two boards.
Jonathan Lavallée, a spokesperson for the Quebec immigration department, confirmed a number of immigration applications from prospective vocational students have been denied as a result of alleged irregularities.
“I can confirm that, indeed, we saw something that looked like a ploy to circumvent the rules,” he said.
But Suanne Stein Day, chairperson of the Pearson board, said she knew nothing about prospective students being turned away by Quebec. “I have no knowledge of that,” she said.
Pearson’s director general, Michael Chechile, declined an interview but said in a statement the board “has been aware of irregularities within their International Vocational Programs Department,” which it has reported to the education department and anti-corruption squad, and that it is co-operating fully with investigators.
Enrolment in the boards’ vocational programs has ballooned in recent years, with the arrival of international students seeking a fast track to immigration.
In 2009, Quebec launched an accelerated immigration program for international students and specialized foreign workers. Under the Quebec Experience program, foreign students who complete a vocational, CEGEP or university course in Quebec can qualify for permanent residency without work experience.
The appeal of vocational programs is they are much easier to get into than university or CEGEP, and students can obtain a diploma in 18 months, compared with three or four years for higher levels of education, said Grace Zhao, director of consulting at Goldlife (Canada) Investment Group, which recruits students from China to vocational programs at the EMSB.
This program is building the great pathway and great bridge to Quebec. — Grace Zhao
The boom in international enrolment has brought millions into the coffers of the struggling English boards, facing declining enrolment.
A price list for Pearson’s International Studies Program shows international students pay fees ranging from $21,000 to $41,000 for 1,800-hour vocational programs.
But the immigration consultant working with Indian students said the stranded would-be Pearson students “are basically being (held) hostage.”
The students should have started classes in September but never received a Quebec Acceptance Certificate (CAQ), which international students need to study in the province, he said.
The consultant said several students visited his office to see whether he could help them get back their deposits and obtain a certificate, but there was little he could do.
In recent weeks, he said, some students have been receiving letters from the Quebec government advising them their request for a certificate has been denied.
The Montreal Gazette obtained a letter dated Nov. 18 from the Quebec immigration department to a 26-year-old student who had been accepted into a course in home care assistance at Pearson. It informed the student her application for a certificate had been rejected because her application contained false or misleading information. It said unless the student corrects the false information, her application will be denied and she will be barred from applying again for five years.
The same student paid $7,000 by wire transfer to LBP Vocational College and is fearful of not getting a refund.
The consultant said some students were recruited by an immigration firm called Rehill Services Inc. of Mississauga, Ont., which has an office in the Punjab region of India.
The Pearson board has also been working with a firm called Edu Edge to recruit students from India.
Neither Rehill nor Edu Edge returned phone messages or an email from the Montreal Gazette.
LBP Vocational College is a business name used by a numbered company that was registered in Quebec in January 2014 by Naveen Kolan, a Toronto-based businessman who owns Edu Edge Inc.
The 1,800-hour vocational programs at Pearson, ranging from interior decoration to automobile mechanics, last from 16 to 22 months.
The board also offers shorter programs, lasting between four and 16 months, that cost between $7,900 and $25,880, not including additional fees for health insurance.