A provincial immigration program that has nearly doubled under the NDP government has failed to implement adequate measures to prevent fraud and corruption, according to a June 2 report by the Office of the Auditor General of B.C.
“We concluded that the ministry had not adequately assessed and mitigated the risks of misrepresentation, fraud and corruption to protect the integrity of the [Provincial Nominee Program (PNP)],” stated Acting Auditor General of British Columbia Russ Jones.
The program matches immigrants with particular work skills to B.C. jobs to make up for what government says is a labour shortage that will continue into the next decade.
The findings mirror a 2016 report by Canada’s Auditor General that determined the federal government has not been adequately detecting and preventing citizenship fraud.
Although anti-fraud safeguards had been put in place, there was no risk assessment done of those safeguards, nor has the government consistently monitored those safeguards, such as application due diligence and post-nomination follow-ups, the report outlined.
Furthermore, there were gaps in the safeguards. Government, for example, had not been flagging high-risk indicators, and there was no proactive data analysis to identify trends and detect suspicious patterns and risks.
Another gap was safeguards against staff corruption.
“For example, the online case management system was lacking safeguards to monitor staff activity and ensure separation of duties,” the report noted.
No whistleblower mechanism was in place either; however, the auditor noted the government’s new Public Interest Disclosure Act came into force on Dec. 1, 2019.
“This will help to address this issue for the PNP by setting up a procedure for public sector employees to report serious or systemic issues of wrongdoing to their supervisor, a designated officer within the organization or the Ombudsperson.”
The auditor recommended government define a comprehensive set of key performance measures; conduct more periodic assessments; ensure it collects reliable data; and develop and implement a better risk management framework.
The Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness accepted the auditor’s recommendations. Specifically, among many steps to be taken, it has agreed to a “Program Integrity Unit” to investigate possible misrepresentation, fraud and corruption.
The ministry, which nominates the right workers to each job, should consider the following questions, said Jones: How might a person exploit weaknesses in the system of controls? How could a person override or circumvent controls? What could a person do to conceal the fraud or corruption?
The report states that the ministry achieved its target of using 100% of its annual quota for PNP immigrants throughout the audit period of 2017-19. The federal government ultimately approves each nominee application and over the past three years has approved between 6,000 and 6,500 applications.
Workers bring their dependents too, so over the last two years (2018-19), 23,605 immigrants from PNP have become permanent residents. Between 2016 and 2017, only 14,330 had become permanent residents via the PNP. No data was provided on citizenship patterns.
The auditor claims it is non-partisan; however, it worked off the assumption that the program is good and beneficial to the economy.
“Admitting qualified immigrants who will actively participate in the workforce can help meet the province’s labour market needs and support long-term economic development,” stated the report.
Labour market projections show that B.C. will need over 250,000 immigrants to fill about 30% of the estimated 861,000 job openings in the coming 10 years, to 2029, the report stated.
However, the auditor did not audit the labour market analysis by the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training, which the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness uses as the basis for its immigration levels request to the federal government.
The auditor noted differences between the Federal Skilled Worker program and the PNP. The former applicants don’t need to have a job offer before they apply for permanent residency, while most of the PNP categories do require a job offer. “This means that the PNP is responding to immediate labour market needs by requiring a job offer, as well as assessing human capital factors that are expected to result in long-term economic integration.”
The report stated 96% of nominees in 2016 reported income, however the auditor did not disclose what the average income was.
The proportion of PNP nominees receiving unemployment benefits in 2016 was less than 7%, and the average annual amount was less than $600. With respect to social assistance, less than 1% of PNP nominees had received any benefits.
In 2019, the top countries of origin for B.C. nominees were India, with 33% of nominations, followed by China (16%) and Brazil (6%), according to the report.
Recent immigration fraud in B.C. was highlighted by the case of unlicensed immigration consultant Xun “Sunny” Wang.
The Richmond-based New Can Consultings Ltd. and Wellong International Investments owner received a seven-year prison sentence in October 2015 for committing tax evasion and fraud by creating thousands of fake passports for wealthy Chinese nationals.