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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Ticket to nowhere

Unauthorised immigration firms mushroom across Mohali. Agents take gullible people for a ride and disappear when victims start demanding their money back.

Written by Jagdeep Singh Deep | Mohali | Updated: February 12, 2018 10:17:17 am
Disappearing act: Signboards removed from the office of the World Key Immigration Company at SCF 48, Phase 3B2, in Mohali, on Sunday. (Express photo/Jasbir Malhi) Disappearing act: Signboards removed from the office of the World Key Immigration Company at SCF 48, Phase 3B2, in Mohali, on Sunday. (Express photo/Jasbir Malhi)

Mushrooming offices of immigration firms, increasing number of immigration frauds and the recently launched crackdown on the illegal and unregistered firms have put Mohali in the spotlight.

Dilbagh Singh, a registered medical practitioner (RMP), shifted to Mohali around two years ago for the studies of both his children. His daughter Ramanpreet Kaur cleared Pre-Medical Test and National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) for taking admission in an MBBS course. Dilbagh, however, decided to send his daughter to Ukraine for further studies. This January, Dilbagh got in touch with an agent who promised to help his daughter to go to Ukraine.

“I met agent Arun Singh Kalsia and gave him Rs 5.5 lakh. I also submitted my daughter’s original educational documents to him. But, after a few days, Arun was not traceable. He ran away with my money and also did not return the documents. Consequently, my daughter faced lots of problems in getting admission. Now I have applied for my daughter’s duplicate certificates so that she can secure admission in some institute here,” Dilbagh Singh told Chandigarh Newsline.

Although, on Dilbagh’s complaint, the Mohali police registered a criminal case against Arun, there has not been any progress so far. There are hundreds like Dilbagh who are getting allegedly duped by the travel agents or the immigration firms.

Number of immigration fraud cases increasing in district

The number of immigration fraud cases are increasing every year. The last three years have witnessed a steep rise. Police records, accessed by Chandigarh Newsline, reveal that at least 915 cases have been registered at different police stations across Mohali district since January 2015.

In the year 2015, a total of 267 immigration fraud-related cases were registered in Mohali. The number increased to 282 cases in 2016 and 366 cases in 2017. To date, at least 18 criminal cases have been registered on immigration-related frauds at various police stations across Mohali.

Read | Immigration fraud: “Agent was providing affidavits, we paid him money but now his phone is switched off”

“Due to Mohali’s proximity to Chandigarh, people from other parts of the state feel that the immigration firms operating here would be genuine. Most of the victims when contact us with their complaints share the same reason for which they trust immigration firms here and get duped. There is a possibility that the situation in remote districts of the state could be even worse,” said a police officer who investigated a number of immigration fraud-related cases in Mohali.

Illegal immigration firms continue to operate

Mohali continues to serve as a haven for illegal immigration firms. Until 2015, there were barely 32 immigration firms registered across Mohali. The number of unregistered immigration firms or travel agents operating out of Mohali was more than 900. In the last one year, 101 more firms have got themselves registered in Mohali. But there appears no reduction in the number of unregistered immigration firms yet in business.

The Mohali district administration and police have launched a crackdown on illegal immigration firms and travel agents about four months ago. As a result of their drive, police claim, a number of unauthorised persons running immigration firms and travel agencies shut shops and fled away. Many others, who were serious in this business, started applying for the registration.

“To date, 422 applications by various immigration firms and travel agents have poured in in the Mohali Deputy Commissioner’s office for registration. In the last four months, about 100 such illegal immigration firms and travel agents have shut shop,” said Charandev Singh Mann, Additional Deputy Commissioner, Mohali.

“With the strictness, the immigration firms that were not registered have closed down. We are in the process of identifying all such illegal firms operating in Mohali. If these firms don’t register themselves and comply with he rules and regulations, they shall be liable to face action as per law,” Gursewak Singh, Superintendent of Police (Headquarters), told Chandigarh Newsline.

As per the records maintained by the Miscellaneous Assistance (MA) branch in the Mohali Deputy Commissioner’s office, which deals with immigration firms’ registration, there are around 700 immigration firms that are being run in the district without any valid licence or mandatory approvals.

An officer of the MA branch, not willing to be named, said, “There is a large number of illegal immigration that are operating in the district. We are in the process of identifying all such firms and travel agents and are shutting them down one by one. Basically, the problem arises when people put up a board outside their residence in a remote village or town in places like Kharar, Derabassi and Zirakpur with fancy promises and assurances, and cheat people who are naïve and can be easily tricked.”

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

Read | Immigration fraud: Despite administration’s claims, business as usual at unregistered firms

Citing benefits of the registration of an immigration firm or travel agent, Mann said, “With the registration number, it becomes easy for any investigating agency to immediately trace the actual owner of the firm. Location of its offices and staff members’ identities are also available with the district administration. Thus, it minimises the chances that the firm or agent shall dupe anybody because in such a case, their registration can be suspended or even cancelled. We also appeal to the people that before trusting any immigration firm or travel agent, they must first check the registration number and then only proceed. All the registered immigration firms and travel agents’ data is available on Mohali district administration’s website.”

HC voices concern, passes directions

Concerned over the increasing number of cases of immigration-related frauds, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in November last year asked the police authorities in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh to verify whether the people giving advertisements to attract people for sending them abroad are registered, and asked the police chiefs of both Punjab and Haryana and Union Territory of Chandigarh to submit a compliance report.

“The order of verification has not been restricted to the advertisements in the traditional media but the police have also been asked to verify the promotional material pasted on the rear of auto-rickshaws,” the High Court had observed. The High Court, in May last year, had also observed that the agents who were not even licensed had been taking money and sending people abroad.

“It is seen that at the back of the auto-rickshaws and at several places and on the television channels, advertisements are given for attracting the gullible people for sending them abroad even for studies,” Justice AB Chaudhari has said in the order.

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