It was supposed to herald the end of the wild west days of immigration consulting.
In June 2002, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) became law, and for the first time in Canadian history, allowed our federal cabinet to regulate immigration consultants.
At that time anybody, and I mean anybody, could describe themselves as an immigration consultant. And many did.
Many, if not most, had no formal training whatsoever. Some had criminal records. Some barely spoke English or French. Some were neither Canadian citizens nor permanent residents of Canada. Others didn’t even have legal status in this country.
Yet they were all legally allowed to print up a business card describing themselves as experienced immigration consultants, counsel, advisors, or whatever. They were permitted to hang up a shingle in a glass tower, over a convenience store, or at their place of residence.
They all had a hook. With little in the way of real credentials or experience to trade on, many endeared themselves to potential clients through their common cultural backgrounds, language, and familial ties. It seemed that some familiar sounding banter from back home was all that would-be immigrants needed to choose someone to represent them in what could be the most important move of their lives.
In April 2004, IRPA was amended so that those who, for a fee, advise and represent potential immigrants before Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), and the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) had to be either a member of a provincial bar or licensed by the newly-formed Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC).
CSIC evaluated consultant’s technical and language skills, screened their criminal backgrounds and licensed them when appropriate.
Now that consultants had to be licensed, immigration officials didn’t have to deal with any representatives who were not licensed by CSIC.
Unfortunately, that did not stem the tide of the shyster consultant industry. It just pushed it underground. Those who couldn’t get licensed or who weren’t willing to pay annual dues to CSIC simply bypassed it altogether.
These “ghost consultants” didn’t surrender their business cards, close up shop, or cease operations. In fact, as you read this, perhaps thousands of unlicensed immigration consulting offices continue to freely advertise and ply their trade. Interestingly, they can’t be prosecuted for doing so. While it is true that they must be licensed in order to correspond with immigration officials, it is not an offence to advise immigration clients or to prepare their applications without a license.
Since immigration officials wouldn’t deal with them directly, they simply prepared applications in their clients’ names only, without ever identifying themselves as the applicant’s representative or the person who prepared the application. Often they would give their own address as the applicant’s mailing address so they could maintain control over all important correspondence received from immigration officials.
These days may now be over.
On June 8, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney tabled the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act which would finally make it an offence “To advise a person for consideration – or offer to do so – in connection with a proceeding or application” under IRPA. Proposed penalties are two years in jail and/or $50,000 in fines.
Will this work?
It will certainly give some of these ghost consultants some food for thought. However, the only way to shut them down permanently is to target these criminal enterprises where they feel it most -- in their bank accounts, here and overseas. Kenney should make sure that federal prosecutors have the legal authority to immediately freeze any bank accounts of these organizations, their officers, and employees as soon as charges are laid and make sure that this is done routinely rather than in limited circumstances.
Otherwise the business of swindling and messing up the lives of potential newcomers to Canada will continue to flourish.
Guidy Mamann practices law in Toronto at Mamann, Sandaluk and is
certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as an immigration
specialist. For more information, visit www.migrationlaw.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org