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The immigration fraud: Foreign dreams faked in Mohali

With almost 700 consultants, the district is fast becoming a hub of fly-by-night immigration firms that promise a new life abroad but deliver precious little.

punjab Updated: Jul 05, 2018 11:57 IST
Shailee Dogra
Shailee Dogra
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Mohali,foreign dreams,immigration fraud
Mohali is teeming with consultants that promise to help youngsters emigrate to foreign shores (for representational purpose only).(Ravi Kumar/HT)

The figures are startling. The Mohali police receive around five complaints against travel agents every day. It’s a big number for a city of educated people, but fly-by-night operators continue to make hay by feeding on foreign dreams.

The recent arrest of three persons, including a woman, by the crime investigating agency (CIA) wing of the Mohali police is a testimony to the large number of people being duped by fraudulent immigration firms in the district.

Last November, alarmed by the increasing immigration frauds, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had asked the police in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh to verify whether all such agencies were registered. The court had asked the police to not only verify the advertisements given in the traditional media but also check the promotional material pasted on autos.

ILLEGAL CONSULTANTS

Following this, the Mohali administration had come out with a list of 156 immigration firms registered with it. But a senior official in the deputy commissioner office said the number of immigration consultants operating in the district is a whopping 700.

A senior police officer blamed lack of awareness coupled with a burning desire to go abroad for the large number of gullible youths falling prey to unscrupulous consultants.

Punjab Police has recently launched a campaign on Twitter to generate awareness among people about the fake immigration agencies. It urges people to “only approach certified representatives and to never sign an application with false information.”

While blaming lack of awareness among people with dollar dreams, Tarlochan Singh, CIA in charge, said, “We are identifying illegal agents and registering cases against them.”

NOT A MALE BASTION

The arrest of Dolly Arora for duping people on the pretext of sending them abroad highlights how women are fast becoming part of this grand hoax. Dolly, wife of Deepak Arora, owner of Jet Immigration Firm which was being run from their home in Kharar, is an accused in 30 cases.

Earlier, the Mohali Police had arrested Shalini Kapoor, a native of Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, for duping people on the pretext of sending them abroad. She used to operate from her office, World Class Enterprises Pvt Ltd, in Phase 9, SAS Nagar.

Two years ago, Neena Sharma was convicted and jailed for duping 65 people on the pretext of sending them abroad. A graduate, Neena was on the run for over a year before she was arrested from Panchkula in September 2012. She used to operate two immigration firms — Sai Kirpa in Sector 70 and Guru Kripa Enterprises in Phase 7, SAS Nagar.

“Earlier, women were used as honey traps or carriers, but now they are masterminding immigration crimes,” says advocate Amit Kumar, pooh-poohing the perception that they take to crime only because of some compulsions.

“Women are better strategists, of late more women are involved in immigration frauds as people trust them more easily,” said advocate Rajeev Duggal.

LEFT IN THE LURCH

Land gone, but no visa

Dara Singh and Jaspreet Singh, both from Gehlowal village in Ludhiana, mortgaged their land to raise money to pay a travel agent in Mohali for getting them work visas in Dubai. “We are from a very poor family, we thought we would be able to repay the loan in a year,” recounts Jaspreet. The agent asked them for 60,000 each, which they garnered by mortgaging their land. They paid 1.20 lakh to the agent early last year and waited, but when there was no movement even after eight months, they complained to SSP Mohali in August 2017. The police have now registered case against Sandeep Sandhu and Preet, managers of SS Airways in Phase 2, under Sections 406, 420, 120 b and Immigration Act.

Sent to Canada on fake papers, youth lands in jail

Lovepreet Singh, 26, was arrested in Canada for using fake documents to gain admission in a college. As per the complaint, it was after completing his engineering that Lovepreet from Ropar decided to go abroad for higher studies. He approached an immigration company for a study visa following which he was provided the study visa of Canada and an offer letter from a college. The immigration agency also gave him receipt for the college fees. However, this document was declared fake by the college, which denied him admission. When Lovepreet got in touch with the agency back home, they provided him an offer letter from another college. Based on fresh documents, Lovepreet took admission in that college. However, in the meantime, the first college complained to the immigration department, which arrested him soon after on January 13. Later, Lovpreet got bail.

Awaiting visa for two years, man ends life

After facing harassment at the hands of an immigration company for two years, 28-year-old Sukhwant Singh from Sangrur committed suicide outside the office of Rudraksh Group Overseas Solutions, Phase 1, by consuming poison in December 2015. Sukhwant had come to Mohali to take back the sum of Rs 2.5 lakh he had paid the firm for sending him abroad. Aspiring for Canada, Sukhwant had borrowed this money from a moneylender. When the firm refused to return his money, he came out and consumed poison. Minutes before his death, he called up one of his friends and said, “Mera permanent visa lag gaya hai and mein hamesha ke liye ja raha hoon.” A case has been registered against the firm.

LEGALLY SPEAKING

The Punjab Travel Professionals’ Regulation Rules, 2013 make it mandatory for all travel agents or those running ticketing or consultancy business, to register with the government. Those who have been in the trade for over five years have to pay a license fee of Rs 1 lakh and who have not completed five years have to pay Rs 25,000. The immigration agents should not be involved in any crime when they seek the licence. The Act has a provision for a maximum of seven years of imprisonment and fine of up to 50,000 for any travel agent who violates this law or indulges in human trafficking.

Face-to-Face with Gurpreet Kaur Sapra, deputy commissioner of Mohali

‘We will take police action against illegal firms,’ says Sapra

What are you doing to rein in dubious immigration firms?

In wake of the increasing immigration frauds, we have written to SSP Mohali to close down the shops run by all the immigration consultants and travel agents who are not registered with the government. The Mohali administration has also deployed a team of two officers, one for Mohali and the other for Dera Bassi and Kharar, to expedite the process of registering immigration consultants.

What makes Mohali a hotspot for such firms?

It is mainly due to its proximity to Chandigarh. The general perception is that the immigration firms operating here would be genuine. This is the reason most of the victims share with us.

Why are so many unregistered firms still operating?

We are in the process of identifying all such illegal immigration consultants and travel agents so that we can shut them down one by one. The problem arises when people put up a board outside their residence in a remote village with fancy promises and assurances, and cheat people who are naïve. There are many who do not even put boards and operate from home. They have touts who get clients for them.

How do you plan to rein in such wheeler-dealers?

We have issued directions that all the immigration firms/ travel agents that they must publish their registration numbers in their advertisements. There are still some firms that are not abiding by such directions. We are in the process of identifying them and communicating to the district police for further action.

How will registration help?

The registration number makes it easy for any investigating agency to trace the actual owner of the firm. Location of its offices and staff members’ identities are also available with the district administration. In case of any violation, the registration of the consultancy firm and travel agent can be suspended or even cancelled.

Your advice to the applicants.

People must first check the registration number of any immigration firm or travel agent before proceeding further. The Mohali district administration’s website has the details of all the registered immigration firms and travel agents.

First Published: Jul 05, 2018 10:08 IST