Foreign students file lawsuit against private Edmonton college, immigration consultant

Dozens of foreign-born students signed up for a diploma program at a private Edmonton college because they thought it was the best way to extend their stays in Canada. They're now suing the school and an immigration consultant.

Students claim they enrolled at Solomon College under pretence it would help them stay in Canada

Edeline Royo Agoncillo is one of the two lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. She says she paid thousands of dollars to attend a private college that she thought would qualify her for a federal post-graduate work permit. (CBC)

Dozens of foreign students say they signed up for a diploma program at a private Edmonton college because they thought it was the best way to extend their stays in Canada.

Claiming they were misled about their chances of remaining in the country, some of those students are now suing the school and an immigration consultant over what they say was a false promise.

"These individuals, through no fault of their own, were taken advantage of and now are left in limbo," Edmonton lawyer Avnish Nanda said Wednesday on CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Nanda represents about a dozen students seeking authorization to launch a class-action lawsuit against Solomon College and immigration consultant Amarjot Singh.

About 100 current and former students have come forward to date, Nanda said.

Solomon College is a private vocational college in Edmonton. Singh worked for Apex Professional Group Ltd., an Edmonton-based immigration consultancy that dissolved on Dec. 29.

In an amended statement of claim filed last week in Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench, students allege the college and Singh made "false representations" about their eligibility for a federal work permit program and "failed to exercise reasonable care to ensure that these representations were accurate."

The statement of claim also alleges that Apex and Singh received commissions from the college for referring Agoncillo and other students to the school.

Both Apex and Singh were licensed by the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council.

The allegations have not been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed.

Not eligible for work-permit program

The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Jonah Louise Cabela Falgui and Edeline Royo Agoncillo, two citizens of the Philippines who arrived in Edmonton under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in 2014.

According to the statement of claim, Agoncillo's employer told her in July 2015 her contract would not be extended. Seeking another way to stay in Canada, she contacted Apex and Singh online.

She alleges she was advised that studying at Solomon College was her "best chance" to stay in the country — that having a diploma in hotel and hospitality management from the school would make her eligible for the federal Post-Graduation Work Permit Program.

The program allows foreign students who have graduated from participating Canadian post-secondary institutions to work in Canada for up to three years. That work experience can be used in the process of qualifying for permanent residency.

Graduates from Solomon College are not eligible for the post-graduation work permit program, however. The federal government runs the program but the provincial government decides which schools and programs are eligible.

"Eligible programs include degree, diploma, and certificate programs at publicly-funded post-secondary institutions, and ministry-approved degree programs at private institutions," wrote Samantha Power, then a press secretary for the Ministry of Advanced Education, in an emailed statement last year.

At the time, Power said no degree programs at private institutions were eligible for the program.

According to the statement of claim, students were unable to withdraw from the program and register in eligible schools.

Students want money back

"It's injustice for us," Falgui told CBC News last year.

She was working at New York Fries in West Edmonton Mall in June 2016 when she learned her work visa, which was about to expire, wasn't going to be extended.

Like Agoncillo, Falgui enrolled in the Solomon College hotel management program under the belief that the diploma would make her eligible for a post-graduation work permit. The statement of claim says she paid the school $18,000 for tuition, books and other fees.

"That money that we paid for, in that school, that was all our hard work," Falgui said.

CBC contacted Singh's lawyer but has not yet received a response.

Nanda has heard from students who come from countries around the world, including the Philippines, Israel and Ukraine.

Many took out high-interest loans in order to study in Edmonton, he said. "They want that money back."

The students involved in the lawsuit are also seeking general, special and punitive damages in amounts to be determined by the court.

Solomon College responds

Solomon College program director Ping Ping Lee declined an interview request but sent a statement to CBC.

The school received the amended statement of claim this week and its legal advisers "need to look carefully at its contents," Lee said.

"We make no promises to our students about our ability to procure work permits as a result of registering in anyone of our educational programs," the statement said.

"This would be unethical and inconsistent with our primary role as an education provider. We are clear in our website, in our student handbook and in our orientation session with students that any questions that they may have about work permits or the Post Graduate Work Program (PGWP) be directed back to Immigration and Citizenship Canada as we have no role in this service."

CBC contacted Singh's lawyer but has not yet received a response.