What You Should Know About Letters of Invitation
As an event planner, you may find yourself with a request for a Letter of Invitation from a potential participant from overseas. While you’ll probably be understandably excited that your event has generated such worldwide interest, you need to be aware that such requests can mask fraudulent registrations. Signing up for your event can be a pretense for entering the country, as the Letter of Invitation is part of the visa application that the visitor needs to make. We’ve already written several blog posts on registration scams, including how to spot a fraudulent registration and what to do when you find one.
This article focuses on the Letter of Invitation and how you should handle any requests. We spoke with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to obtain some of this information and this is our interpretation of what we found out. Please be sure to do your own research and contact the proper authorities for your particular situation.
First of all, as the event planner you don’t have any responsibility if you do give out a Letter of Invitation that turns out to be part of a scam. The letter is only one part of the whole package that the Immigration agents review; they also look at the availability of the person’s funds for the trip, their job back home, their family circumstances and more, so the letter is not the crucial document. But professionalism dictates that you exercise due diligence in investigating any such request; after all, it’s your reputation on the line and you don’t want to issue a large number of letters to fraudsters.
Reviewing any request for a Letter of Invitation involves applying some basic common sense with awareness. Here are some questions you can ask.
- Is it realistic that a person from overseas would attend your event?
Many fraudulent registrations originate from African countries. So you need to ask yourself if it makes sense that a person from Nigeria, for example, would attend a conference on Arctic wildlife. This becomes more complex if you are expecting registrants from these countries.
- Is the organization legit?
Visit the website of the organization the potential participant gives on their letter request and see if you can find the person’s name there. Is there an legitimate address and phone number on the “Contact Us” page? Does the organization belong to any trade or professional associations?
- Does the person belong to the organization? Can you call them?
Use the organization’s phone number or the one given on the letter request to directly contact and speak to the potential participant. Don’t rely solely on email contact as that doesn’t really confirm anything. Google the person’s name and email address and see if they’re mentioned on any reputable sites, such as universities or in journals or news articles.
- Will they pay first?
Receiving payment upfront isn’t a foolproof way of detecting a scam, as the person may be using a stolen credit card. However, warning signs should begin to flash for you if they want to pay when they get here, plan to write you a cheque or say that they need the letter first in order to get the funds released by their manager. Another hint that something is not right is if you suddenly start to receive a slew of new requests from a country to which you’ve already issued a letter to a participant.
Writing the Letter of Invitation
If your assessment of the Letter of Invitation request finds it to be valid, you then need to write the actual letter. The letter should establish the purpose of the event participant’s trip to Canada and provide information on their plans while in the country. You also need to spell out whether any or all parts of the visit (plane ticket, hotel accommodations etc) are being funded, as this will help the Immigration department to determine what funds are needed for the trip. Send the Letter of Invitation to the requestor, not to the visa office.
Template for the Letter of Invitation
Immigration Canada has provided a template for the Letter of Invitation. Use this as a guide and include any other relevant and useful details, such as the contact phone number for the participant.
Conference or organization letterhead and contact information
Dear Mr. ___
I am pleased to invite you (and confirm your registration) to attend/participate on (event name) which will be held (date and location of event).
(One paragraph with information about the event – see example)
The WORLD series of conferences and trade shows has been promoting global opportunities in business and the environment for over two decades. We expect 12,000 participants from over 80 countries, including 400 exhibitors, to gather to do business and create solutions for the world’s sustainability challenges.
(Information on any cost that you may be covering for some delegates – see example)
Please note that we are unable to cover the costs of any of the fees related to your participation in the event. Costs related to travel, accommodation, transportation and conference registration will be your own responsibility.
(Name of conference organizer/or responsible for the organization)
Yes, it’s time consuming, but…
Unfortunately, watching out for scams and fraudulent registrations is part of the business of event planning. It takes time and effort to investigate each request for a Letter of Invitation, and many will be legitimate, but it’s worth it to ensure the integrity of your event. For info on other fraudulent schemes to watch out for, read our Three Event Registrations Scams post.