November 9, 2018 12:39 am
Updated: November 9, 2018 8:57 pm

Class-action lawsuit over government visa fees could be largest in Canadian history

WATCH: Effort to recover resident visa fees could become largest class action suit in Canadian history

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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated the lawsuit revolved around fees people from India, China and the Philippines paid for multiple-entry temporary resident visa applications. In fact, the suit revolves around fees for people from all visa-required countries, which include India, China and the Philippines.

It could be the largest class-action lawsuit in Canadian history.

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At the centre are fees people from countries that require visas — such as India, China and the Philippines — paid for multiple-entry temporary resident visa applications.

The now federal court-certified lawsuit says the Government of Canada has been collecting more money through charging service fees for multiple-entry temporary resident visa applications than they actually spent to process and make decisions on those applications.

Alan Hinton, a B.C. native, is the lead plaintiff.

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He and his wife became concerned when they learned of the alleged discrepancy between the fee and the service provided. Hinton said he decided to pursue legal action with an aim to help immigrants so they don’t have to pay more than they can afford.

“If the government is saying that they’re not supposed to make money off of this and they’re supposed to sort of be neutral, that they should honour that,” Hinton said.

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Richard Kurland, Hinton’s lawyer, has been researching this case of overpayment of multiple-entry visa applications for 20 years.

“Visas are needed if you’re coming from a country like China, India, Philippines to come visit Canada, or come work or study here,” Kurland said. “But what happened is that since 2004, the government charged too much.”

The lawsuit alleges an “illegal and recoverable profit was made by the Government” and asks as relief, among other things, that a partial financial refund of the fees paid be given to the people who paid the service fees.

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Kurland said this isn’t a refund of taxpayer money, but that of foreign nationals, totalling anywhere from $40 to $60 per application.

Kurland says internal government cost studies he obtained through freedom of information requests show it did not cost $150 to process a visa application.

The fee has since been dropped to $100, but the government is still defending its actions.

“Their position now in court is that even if someone overpaid, we legally do not have to return overpayments and that’s a danger for Canada because the precedent will be set: if a person in Canada overpays the government for anything, the government doesn’t have to give it back,” Kurland said.

In an emailed statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said it cannot comment on a matter currently before the courts.

“However, we can say that IRCC establishes fees fairly and in accordance with existing legislation,” reads statement.

“This legislation includes the Financial Administration Act, which sets out that fees must not exceed the cost to the Government of Canada of providing the service.”

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