Immigration Minister Steve Ashton confirmed the Canadian embassy in Seoul, South Korea, alerted Manitoba earlier this month about immigration packages being sold over the Hyundai Home Shopping Network by a firm called Emin Time.
Ashton said his department has obtained tapes of the shopping channel broadcasts, which are being translated to see exactly what was being promised to prospective immigrants.
Ashton said he is concerned some of the people who will do business with Emin Time think they can buy their way into Manitoba.
"This is a major concern for us," Ashton said. "We need to make sure there is no impression given here that you can gain access to Manitoba just with money."
The province does not know much about Emin Time, other than the fact that the company has helped about two dozen immigrants relocate to Manitoba, Ashton added.
The company has contracted with a Winnipeg immigration consultant, operating under the name Benchmarks Centre of Education, to provide language training.
Benchmarks has renovated an entire floor of the Paris Building on Portage Avenue.
Brandon Jung, Winnipeg representative of Emin Time, said in total more than 4,000 Koreans called the shopping channel and indicated interest in purchasing more than $100 million in emigration services.
Jung said Emin Time was shocked at how many people responded to the television promotion.
"Our target was about 30 people," Jung said. "We had no idea so many people would call."
No one has yet paid for the packaged services, Jung said. All shoppers must complete a screening process, free of charge, before they can become clients.
The most expensive package, which costs 28 million Won or just over $33,000 Cdn, assists clients to obtain a Canadian student permit to study English at Benchmarks for up to one year, Jung said. Clients will also receive help securing a firm job offer, and completing applications for the provincial nominee program for permanent residency, he said.
The package price includes air transportation, and the $700-per-month cost of the language training, he added.
A student permit to an accepted English as a second language program normally costs $150.
Ashton said Manitoba warns prospective immigrants up front that they do not require an immigration consultant to complete an application to the provincial nominee program, and that using a consultant will not improve their chances of being accepted.
According to English-language news reports from Seoul, on Sept. 4, it took only 90 minutes for nearly 3,000 viewers to pledge 50 billion Won, or $59.6 million, for a variety of Manitoba emigration packages. Jung said another 1,000 viewers called in two nights earlier.
A spokesman for the Hyundai Home Shopping Network was quoted in the Korea Times as saying Manitoba was selected as the destination for this promotion because the province "doesn't require interviews or English proficiency" to be accepted under the provincial nominee program.
Scott Kennedy, a Winnipeg immigration consultant and Benchmarks' vice-president, said there is a desperate shortage of language training for visitors and prospective immigrants.
Benchmarks, which should be open by November, will work primarily with Korean clients of Emin Time, but is also looking for referrals from other immigration consultants, Kennedy added.
Manitoba officials are still concerned Emin Time may not be accurately representing the provincial nominee program, which is a major component of Manitoba's growing immigration recruitment.
The provincial nominee program was created by Ottawa in large part because of demands by Manitoba for a way of attracting immigrants away from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
The program allows individual provinces to target specific immigrants with specific job and skill experience, to fill holes in the labour market. The program has a less rigorous point system but requires a firm job offer, and final approval is still up to the federal government.
Manitoba has used the nominee program much more than any other province. Each year, about 1,500 nominees come to Manitoba, which is about 70 per cent of the total who enter Canada.
Gerry Clement, deputy minister of labour and immigration, said the news reports from Seoul do misrepresent the program, in that some language proficiency is required and an interview is also part of the process.