Toronto immigration firm charges $170K for fake Canadian job, undercover investigation reveals
Price tag for would-be Chinese immigrant covers Canadian employer's fee, the paper trail, and their own wage
A Toronto immigration company offered a job to an undercover CBC journalist posing as a Chinese national seeking permanent residence in Canada for $170,000.
For that fee, WonHonTa Consulting Inc. said, the would-be immigrant would be buying the job and paying their own wage.
And the company said the applicant was to pay the fee to the personal bank account of WonHonTa's sole director in order to avoid taxes.
Jiacheng Song, a manager with a China-based affiliate of WonHonTa, Nanjing Youtai Investment Consulting Co. Ltd., explained how the business works to the undercover journalist using WeChat, a Chinese social media app.
During the month-long investigation conducted through a translator, the journalist posed as a Chinese citizen wanting to become a permanent resident of Canada by obtaining skilled employment.
"To be frank, we have employers who work with us," Song wrote. "We pay them money, they are willing to sponsor our clients for immigration."
Song said "a big chunk" of the fee goes to the Canadian employer, prompting him to ask rhetorically: Why wouldn't a Canadian company want to participate when it "can make easy money and have free labour for six months?"
Vancouver-based immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland characterized what WonHonTa offered bluntly.
"It's a fake job, pure and simple," he said.
He said selling jobs is illegal and it allows rule-breakers to jump the queue on legitimate immigrants who play by the rules.
"Who gets hurt? The integrity of Canada's immigration program," said Kurland.
Real jobs 'very rare and precious'
Song recommended the undercover journalist consider either Saskatchewan or Atlantic Canada because the qualification requirements are low and the wait times are short. He said it's $180,000 for a job in Saskatchewan or $170,000 for the Atlantic provinces.
Song told the undercover reporter that over the past year his company had placed more than a dozen Chinese nationals in Atlantic Canada and just under ten in Saskatchewan.
On its WeChat site, WonHonTa promotes a range of skilled jobs, such as welders, sewing machine operators and daycare workers.
The company claims it has a national network of head hunters who help recruit willing employers. It claims some of them are government immigration officials.
"With more and more people now wanting to apply, employers are having a larger appetite for higher fees," Song said.
"If you don't pay a certain fee, there is no way the employer would want to get involved in this matter."
In order to qualify for permanent residency, the foreign worker has to be able to prove they're employed in a skilled profession in Canada.
In an article on its WeChat page, WonHonTa notes that it's very difficult for a Chinese national to find a real job in Canada.
"Think of it this way: Someone only has overseas work experience, no PR [permanent resident] card, never met with the employer — it's the equivalent to a Beijing local company hiring a migrant worker with no valid ID — Why would anyone dare to hire you directly?" the article asks.
"So is there any real job? The answer is very, very rare and precious," the article says.
WonHonTa says it works around that by paying employers thousands of dollars for job offers.
Creating a paper trail
Song introduced CBC's undercover reporter to the "boss" of WonHonTa's head office in Toronto, Xin Liu, who goes by the name Yuki.
She said the would-be immigrant can go to work for the Canadian company that sponsored them if they wish. In that case, the employer will essentially be paying back some of the Chinese national's fee in the form of wages.
However, Liu said it's not necessary to actually work for the company that sponsored the applicant for immigration. She said WonHonTa will provide the necessary documentation to make it look as though they did work there.
"If you don't work for the employer, we can ask him to issue a pay stub, but it's not real pay," she wrote via WeChat. "Your paycheque is just for show. Only to make the paper trail look good."
Liu said she will ensure all of the appropriate documentation is in place.
"In many circumstances, records of the documents are required should there be an investigation. For example, you are required to file a tax return. You would have to have a tax return record. Banking activities have records, you would have to provide these records."
She said if the Chinese national doesn't actually work at their designated place of employment they will be responsible to pay the employer the taxes that would have been paid had the applicant actually worked.
"We can negotiate with the employer, telling them, 'This person doesn't really want to work for you, nor wants to stay in this province,'" she said. "This is all negotiable, and all you need to do is to pay the taxes owing to the CRA."
The massive size of the country makes it impossible to pull resources for site visits just to find out if you are actually working at this company.- Xin Liu, WonHonTa Consulting Ltd.
Liu assured CBC's undercover reporter that immigration officials are unlikely to detect the scheme.
"For Immigration Canada, they are understaffed," Liu said. "The massive size of the country makes it impossible to pull resources for site visits just to find out if you are actually working at this company."
However, in the unlikely event that an immigration official makes an unexpected site visit to see if the foreign national is at work, Liu said the employer would say the worker was out of the office on business.
Liu provided the undercover reporter with a copy of her company's standard contract with a would-be immigrant.
In the section outlining the payment details, CBC noticed that Liu wanted her customers to pay her personal bank account.
On WeChat, the undercover reporter asked Liu why.
"In Canada, the VAT [value added tax] charge is 13 per cent when doing business with companies," she said. "However, we offer the employers real profit, therefore it has to be done through a personal account. In China, we wire the money to the personal account of a company's legal representative — this is a practice to avoid paying taxes."
CBC gets a job offer
As the conversation with Liu developed over the month-long investigation, she began hunting for a job for the undercover journalist's "wife."
Late last month, Liu announced: "Great news! We have found a good match for your wife, based on her resume."
Liu said the job offer came from a Halifax-based daycare called Daydreams.
"The owner is a Caucasian. This is a sought-after job opportunity, because there are several inquiries received by the employer already. It really comes down to who pays the deposit first," she said.
Liu sent the undercover reporter a sample contract in the name of the reporter's "wife" showing she would be charged $170,000 for the job offer.
When the undercover journalist inquired a couple of days later, Liu said they were too late. The position had been taken. But she promised to line up another offer once the deposit had been paid.
'I have never heard of them'
One of the owners of Daydreams Childcare Centre, Colleen Dempsey, was baffled when CBC called to inquire about this supposed job offer.
Dempsey said her company had registered with the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program (AIPP) about 10 months ago so she could hire one particular foreign national who had already been working at the facility on an open work permit.
"I have never done any business with them," she said of WonHonTa. "I have never spoke with them. I have never heard of them.
"We're a small business that I've built from the ground up and I certainly don't appreciate my name being thrown around in those regards."
The name of every company that registers with the AIPP is listed online.
Dempsey assumes that's how WonHonTa found out about her company. She said the public listing has created other problems for her as well.
"Since we have become listed as part of the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program ... there have been an increase in e-mails from random individuals looking for [permanent] residency and I have not replied to one," she said.
Dempsey isn't the only one fielding unwelcome phone calls.
Erica Stanley, an immigration consultant in Charlottetown, told CBC she's been flooded with calls from foreign nationals looking for an employment offer.
"So, just the volume of phone calls is ridiculous. And my inbox is full of website inquiries," Stanley said. "They're like, 'Well, we're willing to pay.' I said, 'Oh I'm sure you are but it's illegal to do that.' 'Oh, but everybody's doing it.' I said, 'Well, that's nice, then you can find someone else who can do it.'"
Liu says jobs-for-cash is illegal
Shortly after receiving the job offer, a CBC reporter who was not undercover called Liu and asked if she would do an interview about immigration. At this time, CBC didn't mention its ongoing investigation into Liu's company.
Liu agreed to a phone interview. She confirmed her company helps Chinese nationals find employment in Canada, leading to permanent residency. She said she charges $2,000 to $5,000 for that service.
The reporter told Liu that some companies charge $170,000 to $180,000 for the same service.
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"It could be, if somebody is trying to make money on it," she said.
CBC asked Liu if she had ever heard of situations where a Chinese national had to pay a Canadian company for a job and pay their own wage. She said she had not.
"Wow," she said. "Why would they do that?"
CBC asked if paying for a job and paying your own wage is allowed in Canada.
"Of course not," Liu said. "The law says that it's forbid if they [immigration officials] find that the job is not real, right?"
CBC then pointed out the article on WonHonTa's WeChat site that says under the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Program, 90 per cent of the jobs obtained by foreign nationals are the sort where the employee pays their own wage.
She said she was surprised by this, noting that she doesn't write or even read content on her own WeChat site.
"How could I have time to write those?" she said.
That article was removed from WeChat shortly after CBC brought it to Liu's attention.
CBC unveils undercover investigation
CBC then revealed to Liu that it had been conducting a month-long investigation into her company and its practices and had been regularly communicating with her under an assumed identity.
When asked why she previously told the undercover reporter the cost was $170,000 for a job in Atlantic Canada, Liu stumbled over her words for 30 seconds, before attempting to end the interview.
"Ah, it's um ... it's between the company ... I'm driving right now. Can I call you back?" she said.
Watch as CBC reporter asks Xin Liu about the offer made to undercover journalist
She promised to continue the conversation after receiving proof she was talking to a journalist. CBC sent an email, but Liu has not replied.
Then CBC phoned Song at his China office and revealed its undercover investigation to him. He said much of what he had told CBC's undercover reporter was a lie.
He said he was lying when he claimed to have found jobs in Canada for Chinese nationals. He said he's never done that. He said he was lying when he told CBC's undercover reporter that his company pays Canadian employers for jobs. He said his company has never done that.
Song said most immigration companies in China do pay Canadian employers for jobs, so he has to pretend to do that as well.
"That's just a marketing strategy in order to get clients to sign the deal," Song said in an interview with CBC. "If we don't do this, our business will never sustain."
Song said he was unhappy that CBC was investigating his company, which is quite small.
"So it's really unfair for us to be caught by you while there are so many much bigger companies out there you don't look into."
Song said he and Liu are too ethical to pay for a job offer.
"I believe Yuki is a guileless person. She works hard for her clients because she genuinely wants to help them find a real job in Canada." he said.
'Everyone's hands are dirty'
Richard Kurland, the immigration lawyer in Vancouver, didn't mince words when asked for his assessment of WonHonTa's scheme.
"I don't think there's a serious question that this amounts to an egregious violation of IRPA, the Immigration Refugee Protection Act, as well as Canada's immigration program."
He said there is a corrosive effect on each person in the chain of transactions.
"Everyone's hands are dirty, which means no one can appear in public and seek justice, which means that the business that collects money keeps the money, regardless of outcome," said Kurland.
So-called arranged employment (AE) offers have been a tool of fraudsters for decades in Canada, as demonstrated by an internal 2010 federal government report commissioned by Human Resources and Social Development Canada.
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Canadian diplomatic missions from around the world were questioned about the integrity of these job offers and they flagged widespread problems.
- Hong Kong reported "high rates of fraud or suspected fraud and only 15-22 per cent of AE offers were found to be genuine."
- Beijing said that "21 of the 33 files chosen for review found the applicants were not working for the employer or had never worked for the employer."
- New Delhi found that "over 60 per cent of the cases never worked for the employers in Canada."
- Seoul said "that out of 29 cases landed in 2008, only eight appeared bona fide, 12 cases found collusion between the employer and/or applicant and/or agent."
CBC asked the federal government for more recent numbers, but it didn't provide any.
Instead, Shannon Ker, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, wrote that "the vast majority of applications received by IRCC are genuine." Ker said IRCC has trained its employees "how to detect fraud and the appropriate steps to take when there is sufficient cause to suspect it is taking place."
Kurland said that, in his view, Ottawa and provincial regulators aren't doing enough.
"There is a genuine concern that the province and the feds have insufficient enforcement resources to keep things honest."
And a lack of enforcement is an invitation for abuse, he said.
"If the international marketplace knows you have a budget for a handful of police officers and you have 2,000 banks in your city, some bank is going to get robbed all the time."
With files from the CBC's Angela MacIvor and Sharon Wu