How to protect the public from unscrupulous consultants/lawyers

The new rules and regulations brought down by the Conservative government over the past few years have shown a keen desire to make it very difficult for unscrupulous consultants and lawyers to ply their ethically challenged version of this trade on susceptible foreign and domestic populations. Among other things, the newly accredited ICCRC has replaced the old CSIC (under which many deleterious issues arose). This move shows that the government is not fooling around by replacing rather than attempting to modify an organization that for a long time was the main purveyor of oversight and policing for the industry.

Although the rules and penalties are basically unchanged for those lawyers engaged in the field of immigration consulting, government focus on the unscrupulous non-jurist consultant has resulted in drastic changes for them. As a result, many unscrupulous consultants will abandon their practices, but as a result, rates for service will likely go up because the competition with lawyers will have been reduced. Whereas a RCIC may charge $150 per hour, for instance, a lawyer may charge a going rate of $350 per hour. By reducing the opportunity for a client to hire a consultant without a law degree, the government has inadvertently made it more expensive in the search for immigration services.

To counter this, the government has been attempting to make it easier, via web access, to apply on-line for immigration permits and visas. In a perfect world, this would work fine, but most applicants may still find the process intimidating in the amount of forms and information that must be provided, substantiated, understood, and completed perfectly. For those that don’t speak very fluent English or French, the on-line system is of little use.

The ultimate protection for those wanting to come to Canada, is the total elimination of the need for a private immigration consultant. The government can expand the embassies and consulates throughout the world and hire many more civil servants who will serve the needs of those who want to leave their homeland and come to Canada.

Employment Insurance is a good example of a government monopoly that CIC can imitate. When someone needs EI, they must contact the government through the auspices of Service Canada. There is no “private insurance” agent to help facilitate the application. When one applies for EI, they may be able to have their claim processed on-line, but in many circumstances, it is still required that a sit-down interview take place. The personal interview would always take place (initially) if a similar organization is set up for CIC/CBSA (for security reasons).

If the government chooses a route such as this, the vast increase in administrative staff around the world would have to be supported by increased fees for applications and/or subsidization from government taxes (general revenue or special levy). Increased service charges would replace the costs of hiring private consultants. A financial assistance system could also be set up, not unlike the government student loan programs.

In the aforementioned scenario of government expansion of services, ICCRC members and immigration lawyers would be reduced to appealing decisions made by CIC after their internal appeals are exhausted. Only affluent foreigners would be able to appeal under these circumstances, though some charitable organizations may be available to subsidize or coordinate appeals. The government may also set up rules to allow legal aid in certain circumstances.

The hiring of a consultant within Canada is now, in theory, quite safe. If the client shows at least some due diligence in discovering the credentials of the consultant they are looking to hire, they should have little difficulty with the services offered and the results.

For those looking to hire a consultant from outside of Canada, they will need to be even more careful. The Canadian government has little or no influence in foreign jurisdictions, and it is not up to the Canadian taxpayer to pay for the advertisements required to inform foreign nationals of the need to be aware of unauthorized consultant scams.

ICCRC members who attach their names to consultancies around the world would go a long way to assure those potential clients that their services will be legitimate. Customers will, however, likely pay a higher fee than that paid for an “unauthorized” immigration consultant.

Complaints made against an ICCRC associated firm outside of Canada may not be heard by ICCRC because of jurisdictional reasons. Those complaints will need to be addressed by local authorities. In order for complaints to be heard by ICCRC in Canada, the client will likely to have already received status within this country. Those complainants will be few because their goal of Canadian residence had been achieved, and by possibly causing a member firm to lose its accreditation, the complainant stands to receive a backlash from fellow citizens of his/her home country who are using that same firm, have paid substantial fees for service, and may lose all opportunity for import to Canada if the ICCRC member firm pulls out and shuts down.

It seems the Conservative government’s doctrine of “less government” might indicate their reluctance to increase Canada’s national and international bureaucracy in order to better eliminate the scammer consultants of this world. A new, more left-leaning government, however, may do just that.

It may behoove the opposition parties in their zeal to be elected to propose an outright ban on the use of non-lawyer consultants while they encourage an expansion of service at embassies and consulates around the world. Recent immigrants, especially, may be attracted to a party with such a policy because of their possible feelings of having over-paid or been underserved by their consultants or they may just be convinced of the righteousness of such a policy based on all the headlines about unscrupulousness in the industry.

Given time, as the system changes, the public will have less reason to fear being taken advantage of. The direction Mr. Kenney is currently taking, sees to that. The question is: Is it going to be enough?

William Howie
Immigration Program Student at Ashton College
under the tutelage of Jose Godoy Toku

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