What type of professional should you choose for your immigration work?
Posted on - Nov 28, 2017

By Faisal Al-Alamy

Faisal Al-Alamy

Our Vancouver immigration law office is a busy place. We have individuals, families and businesses seeking our guidance on a range of Canadian immigration matters, including work and study permits, sponsorship applications and representation in the Federal Court. Lately, however, many people who reach out to our team of Vancouver immigration lawyers seeking help are expressing a common and serious problem – they were scammed by their immigration consultant.

A recent article from the New York Times revealed that a Vancouver immigration consultant “pocketed nearly $6 million from investors” who were led to believe that money is all you need to immigrate to Canada. As they soon realized, they were “robbed of their dreams” as well as their money under the promise of a future in Canada. This all-too-common scenario presents two very important questions: who do I trust to handle my immigration matter, and what can I do on my end to make sure it is in good hands?

There are four types of professionals who can represent prospective immigrants to Canada for a fee: (1) lawyers; (2) licenced paralegals in Ontario; (3) notaries in Quebec; and (4) registered immigration consultants. Lawyers, Ontario paralegals, and Quebec notaries are all regulated by Provincial and territorial law societies.

While many people consider immigration consultants to be synonymous with immigration lawyers, important differences exist between these two classes of representatives.

An immigration consultant is a certified and licenced representative who receives their accreditation from the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) that oversees and regulates their conduct. Training for immigration consultants is as little as a one year part-time (3 hours/week) course. When allegations of misconduct are made against registered immigration consultants, a Board composed of ICCRC members is authorized to investigate and address the complaints.

As was reported by fellow Canadian immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens, who examined over 130 pages of documentation concerning complaints made from the Government of Canada’s own immigration staff to the ICCRC, very minimal action was taken by the ICCRC Board to address the complaints raising serious questions about the competency of the ICCRC’s self regulatory process (presumably the same level of inaction took place with complaints made by the general public). While these complaints target the actions of immigration consultants, the true victims are the immigration applicants who place their trust in an authorized representative’s hands.

By contrast, a Canadian immigration lawyer is governed by a Provincial or territorial law society, and is held to a much higher standard than immigration consultants (Ontario paralegals and Quebec notaries are also governed by the law societies in their provinces).

A lawyer’s training includes a comprehensive three-year full time academic course load following a one year post graduate supervised training period – the articling year.

After law school and articling, a lawyer is equipped with knowledge of the law and potential remedies to strategize the best course of action for prospective applicants.

But perhaps the most important distinction between immigration consultants and immigration lawyers is that while both are bound by a code of professional conduct in which they must always act in their client’s best interest, a lawyer’s failure to uphold this duty may actually result in severe disciplinary action, including censure, suspension, and disbarment.

At present, there are approximately 1,000 immigration lawyers governed by their respective Provincial and territorial law societies in contrast with 4,000 immigration consultants governed by the ICCRC. As the level of inaction by ICCRC towards the Government of Canada’s complaints of their members demonstrates, this organization appears to be completely apathetic towards the best interests of the public. Prospective immigrants take note and caveat emptor!

The Government of Canada continues to monitor the regulation of immigration consultants having struck a committee in June of 2016 to further investigate ICCRC’s ability to oversee their members. Presentations were made before the Parliamentary Standing Committee which resulted in their report being issued in July of this year.

At present no changes will be made to the ICCRC regulatory model and the public will continue to have to fend for themselves in seeking remedies against unscrupulous consultants.

Of course, there are many responsible, effective and ethical immigration consultants. In choosing someone to represent your interests in immigration matters, it is important to do your research and ensure that you are working with a reputable and trustworthy individual. Before choosing a Canadian immigration lawyer or any kind of immigration representative, you should conduct a diligent review of their background by obtaining references and by getting a second or third opinion. Do not sign anything until you are sure of your choice, and be an informed advocate for your own interests.

For additional information please refer to our previous blog: “Really, you signed blank forms?” Best practices for immigration clients.

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