The federal government is quite rightly investigating the case of Suaad Hagi Mohamud and why the visa section of our high commission in Nairobi initially agreed with the local authorities that she was not the rightful bearer of the passport she used when attempting to leave Kenya in May.
For those who think this action may be symptomatic of a general disposition on the part of our high commission to be overly suspicious or indifferent towards our citizens who happen to come from the region, Canadians should be aware, however, of the very high levels of misrepresentation, including identity fraud, that this and other Canadian visa offices have to contend with on a daily basis.
This problem is by no means confined to posts in Africa, nor is it a recent phenomenon. In the 1950s, for example, it was discovered that a large proportion of immigrants who had recently arrived from Hong Kong had done so fraudulently. The problem was so massive that Ottawa decided it was not practical to try to send them all back and eventually regularized the status of the more than 11,000 people.
This problem, moreover, has not gone away. In 2002, the immigration office in Hong Kong reported that half of the 33,000 immigration cases awaiting processing involved misleading or fraudulent information.
In the case of applications from China, our largest source of immigration, access to information requests in recent years have revealed, for example, that 57 per cent of student visa applications from Fujian Province in China were submitted with fraudulent documents while a sampling of business immigration applications from that country found that only 35 per cent were bona fide.
In the case of our second largest source country, India, although the rejection rate for applications at our largest visa office, Delhi, is only 19 per cent, in Chandigarh in the Punjab, most had to be turned down — a large percentage because of the high incidence of fraudulent documents or other forms of misrepresentation.
At some of our posts, such as those in the former Soviet Union for example, fraudulent applications have also frequently involved attempts by criminal elements to enter Canada.
At our office in Nairobi, which is the main overseas centre for the processing of applications by people from Somalia seeking settlement as refugees abroad, fraud, and particularly identity fraud, is a major problem. This takes a number of forms, including claims that children being brought into Canada are one’s own offspring when, in fact, they are someone else’s. In such cases, DNA testing often becomes necessary — which is both expensive and time consuming.
While Mohamud’s case should be carefully examined to find out what went wrong and how it can be avoided in the future, Canadians should be under no illusions regarding the high levels of fraud that many of our visa offices have to deal with on a regular basis and the difficulty this poses in terms of making fair and timely decisions.