How to protect immigrants from unscrupulous Canadian immigration consultants and lawyers?
A public information campaign to combat immigration fraud and to warn against unscrupulous third-party intermediaries such as consultants, lawyers and labour recruiters was launched by Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney on March 10, 2009. To support this campaign, a public consultation was conducted online to request feedback on the nature and scope of fraud in the immigration process. For that, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) posted an online questionnaire on its website to collect information from individuals who used Canadian immigration representatives to help with their immigration applications. This questionnaire was also elaborated to educate the public on how to better protect themselves against scams or illegal behaviour by third parties.
The results of this public consultation are very useful to establish parameters to fight against dishonest immigration representatives to protect the public. It came to the following conclusions:
- half of the respondents sought help with the Canadian immigration process; among those who sought help, the majority chose immigration consultants rather than immigration lawyers or family and friends;
- four out of five respondents paid for the help they received with their immigration application to Canada; most paid less than CAN$5,000, but some paid more than CAN$10,000;
- most wanted help understanding the immigration process or thought that professional assistance would increase their chances of success; just a few erroneously believed that they need to hire a representative in order to immigrate to Canada;
- satisfaction with the services paid for was evenly split, and almost one-third of respondents had negative experiences with consultants; however, very few reported their experience to anybody;
- CIC’s website was a key source of information at the initial stage, but so was word-of-mouth from family and friends.
Immigration consultants and lawyers must be regulated by their respective professional bodies, which will supervise them and will eventually investigate any professional or ethical misconduct. In other words, immigration consultants must be members in good standing of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) and immigration lawyers must be members in good standing of the Provincial or Territorial Law Society to be able to practice their profession legally. They are considered compensated representatives who charge a fee or receive some other form of consideration in exchange for the advice and representation that they provide.
To obtain their professional license, immigration consultants have to meet five conditions to join the Council (ICCRC): through knowledge of Canadian immigration and refugee law (an extensive course of at least 180 class hours completed within the past 3 years); rigorous full skills exam; good character; language proficiency in English or French; and status in Canada as a citizen, permanent resident or Status Indian. As well as, lawyers are required to hold three or four years LL.B. or J.D. degrees issued by a Canadian law school, complete a practical training program (articling), complete a bar admissions course and examinations and demonstrate that they are of good character before they can be admitted to a Law Society and be licensed to practice law.
To protect the public interest, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) was amended to authorize CIC, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to disclose information relating to the professional or ethical conduct of representatives, authorized under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), to their respective governing bodies; when the officer has determined that the conduct of the person is likely to constitute a breach of their professional or ethical obligations. The most common acts or omissions can be cited:
- false promises made to the applicant,
- providing false information to clients about Canada’s immigration processes,
- failing to provide services agreed to between the representative and client,
- counselling to obtain or submit false evidence, and
- acts or omissions which would appear to be contrary to the code of ethics of the governing body.
The ICCRC has the authority to regulate and discipline Canadian immigration consultants who are authorized to practice. Unauthorized providers of immigration services are not regulated and cannot be disciplined by the Council. In these cases, ICCRC will investigate the situation and, where necessary, pass the information along to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), a provincial or territorial Law Society or any other Authority.
Worth following a few tips to protect the public from dishonest representatives. Applicants should educate themselves about the immigration process as much as possible to avoid being cheated and learn the basic immigration requirements before beginning the process. The CIC website provides general information and advice for the public; even though, it can be tough for some people. It is important to keep updated of new rules as they may affect different stages of the application process, as well as talk to experienced friends who have been through the process.
Those who feel the need of hiring a representative should research the immigration consultant or lawyer, who they wish to hire carefully, including their reputation and what to expect in terms of delivery and fees before committing to anything; ensure that the consultant is in fact registered with ICCRC and the lawyer with the provincial or territorial law association. Never pay in full, prefer to pay in installments. Be suspicious of highly expensive services that might be fraudulent, as well as seek information on how long each stage of the application process should last.
To conclude, to protect consumers against unscrupulous immigration consultants or lawyers, they should be aware to hire an honest one. Applicants are responsible for what happens, not the representative. Therefore, they will have to pay the consequences of any fraudulent documents or attempted bribes. That’s why it is extremely important to know the professional who will be hired to represent the applicant’s interest in any immigration process. Do not become a victim of immigration fraud.
Paula De Cassia Pimpão