Cash-for-jobs immigration consultant under scrutiny by federal and provincial officials
B.C.-based company scrubs website of reference to Saskatchewan immigration connections
The company at the centre of an undercover CBC News investigation, which unearthed evidence of a cash-for-jobs immigration scheme, is now being reviewed by federal and provincial officials.
Last week, CBC revealed that a representative of Vancouver-based Vstar International offered $15,000 to businesswoman Barb Reid of Prince Albert, Sask., if she would offer a job to a Chinese national.
CBC made an undercover recording of the Vstar representative while he made that offer. Vstar claims that man has never worked for the company.
- Undercover investigation unmasks cash-for-jobs Chinese immigration scheme
- Cash-for-jobs immigration consultant connected to Sask. government-backed Chinese megamall
Since the story came out, people in three other Saskatchewan communities have come forward with similar stories, at least two of which involve Vstar. Experts say it's a violation of the law to offer cash in exchange for a job offer.
The matter "is currently being reviewed by Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Program Integrity Unit," the Saskatchewan premier's office said in an email, adding that officials are arranging meetings with "organizations" identified in CBC's stories.
Plus, Reid has told CBC that officials from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) have been in touch and are planning to interview her soon.
CBSA said it doesn't confirm or deny whether it is investigating a particular case.
The agency said in a statement it works "closely with our partners to identify, investigate and prosecute those engaging in immigration fraud to the full extent of the law."
During its investigation, CBC also spoke with Vstar owner Nicole Sun who, in a recorded conversation with undercover reporter Sharon Wu, said Vstar charges Chinese nationals $200,000 for an immigration application.
Immigration lawyer and policy analyst Richard Kurland said the stories have raised red flags.
"CBSA now has targets on the table: the recipient of cash, the provider of cash, an applicant paying $200,000 for an immigration file," Kurland said.
"There's enough there to allow CBSA to seek evidence from every person connected to this transaction."
Since CBC's stories ran, Vstar has removed reference to its immigration business in Saskatchewan from its website, and Sun now denies the company does business there.
"Vstar International Consulting does not do business in the province of Saskatchewan," she said in a text message to CBC on Monday.
She said the company has information about Saskatchewan's immigration program on its site, but said it is only for "promotional purposes."
"We have never facilitated any applications through the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program and do not operate outside of British Columbia," she said.
"Any suggestion to the contrary is false."
But in previous versions of its website, and in prior conversations between Sun and CBC, Vstar said it has been involved in immigration applications in Saskatchewan. Until recently the front page of the site prominently used a picture of the Saskatchewan legislature.
In another section, called "Success Cases," Vstar told stories about clients who successfully applied to the SINP.
Actively promoted Saskatchewan project
Until a few days ago, the Vstar site also prominently featured a high-profile mall and entrepreneurial project in Regina — the Global Trade and Exhibition Centre (GTEC) — which is planned to be built at the city's scandal-plagued Global Transportation Hub, a publicly owned inland port.
The wholesale megamall, which will feature 300 condo-style units, would allow Chinese entrepreneurs to immigrate to Saskatchewan and sell their wares into the North American market.
Vstar also put a picture of the GTEC on its front page and promoted it as a program for immigrants, noting it is supported by the Saskatchewan government.
When she was first contacted by CBC's iTeam a few weeks ago, Sun said she and some of her staff were at GTEC's ribbon-cutting ceremony in early May. She said Vstar is actively promoting GTEC.
"Most of my clients have great interest in that thing in Saskatchewan and they've all taken business tours to the project and they are very satisfied with the future they can see," she said at the time.
Sun said the developer, Brightenview Development International, sells the condo units and "we just take over the immigration process for my clients."
Sun was also recorded, in her conversation with CBC's Sharon Wu, promoting GTEC. She said her company had "about 30 clients applying for this program. Some of them are getting approved or have approved."
Kurland, the immigration lawyer, said it appears Vstar is contradicting itself.
"It's as if you're standing in front of a white horse denying there's a horse and denying that if there is a horse, the horse is white," Kurland said.
Not licensed in Sask.
Despite Vstar's documented claims of activity in Saskatchewan, the company and its representatives aren't, according to the premier's office, licensed to conduct immigration business in the province, as required by law.
"Vstar has not represented any immigration applications to date in this province," the office said in a statement.
That echoes what Sun told CBC in her text message on Monday.
Kurland said the whole situation is puzzling.
"How do you, over time, place Saskatchewan icons on a global website, claim to have performed in successful Saskatchewan immigration-related cases and yet there's no record of your company or named individuals who are licensed by the government of Saskatchewan?" he said.
"I can't reconcile that."
He says it's possible the company never actually did any business in the province, or that it operated in the name of a different, and licensed, immigration consultant.
In its written statement, the premier's office pointed out the law requires immigration consultants and foreign worker recruiters to "identify any contractors, affiliates, agents or partners that will assist them in providing immigration consulting or foreign worker recruitment services."
The statement adds "if a licencee was working with Vstar and didn't identify them, this could be found to be a violation of the act."
Kurland said "either way there's going to be a credibility issue," when it comes to Vstar and its claims.
Have a tip about this story? Contact the CBC iTeam's Geoff Leo at firstname.lastname@example.org.