New Act Will Provide Legal Framework for Immigration and Citizenship Consultants
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has announced that the new College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act (‘Act’) is now in force and provides a statutory framework for regulating immigration and citizenship consultants.
The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (‘College’) will become the official regulator of immigration and citizenship consultants in Canada and is expected to be launched in 2021.
According to a press release from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, the college will be an arms-length institution designed to regulate immigration consultants and protect the public from “dishonest actors who take advantage of vulnerable people.”
The College will be given the tools to investigate professional misconduct and discipline its licensees. This means that they will be able to enter the premises of a consultant in order to gather information to support an investigation and compel witnesses to appear and testify before a Discipline Committee.
The College will also have the ability to request court injunctions against unlicensed consultants that are providing immigration advice without authorization.
What Are Immigration Consultants?
Immigration and citizenship consultants offer services to those seeking advice or assistance regarding immigration matters but are not immigration lawyers. In most cases, consultants lack formal legal training and education, and are not licensed to practice law. While many do offer legitimate services and must obtain a certificate and pass examination, many consultants target and overcharge vulnerable clients and make false promises that they cannot deliver.
With this new regulatory framework in place, the College will be subject to government oversight, and consultants must be licensed and follow a professional code of conduct.
“Today’s announcement reaffirms that our Government is committed to the implementation of a new professional governance regime,” said Mendicino. “We’re taking decisive action to hold immigration and citizenship consultants to account by improving oversight and increasing accountability to protect both the public and consultants in good standing from dishonest consultants who are taking advantage of vulnerable people.”
When the College opens next year, public interest directors will be appointed to the College Board to manage the activities and affairs of the institution. A notice of opportunity has been published on the IRCC’s website so that interested parties can apply for one of the positions.
While greater oversight for immigration consultants is a welcome development, the Act unfortunately lends legitimacy to an industry that has been criticized by the Canadian Bar Association as “marred by incompetence and misconduct since its inception.”
According to a 2017 report by the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration that played a rule in pushing the federal government to take action, international students, live-in caregivers, and temporary foreign workers are often the most vulnerable to abuse and may be paying “thousands of dollars to consultants for false promises of permanent residency.”
A 2019 CBC report likewise revealed “unscrupulous” activity among some consultants that led to the exploitation of some 2,600 foreign workers and students who paid large sums of money, came to Canada on the understanding that they would be able to work or study here, and ended up being stuck in jobs that they did not apply to or having their wages withheld.
In a recent example, a Northwest Territories judge awarded a Chinese woman with aspirations of becoming a permanent Canadian resident $185,000 in damages in her suit against an immigration consultant who had withdrawn $160,000 from her account without her consent.
While a compensation fund will be set up to help victims of consultant misconduct and while the College will set education and training requirements for the profession and develop a tiered qualification regime, a core issue nevertheless remains: immigration consultants are not professionally trained lawyers and will be taking on sensitive cases that they do not have the expertise to handle. Some have therefore suggested that immigration consultants should be allowed to work only under the direct supervision of a lawyer.
Underlying this concern is that many international applicants facing language and other barriers will continue to be vulnerable to abuse by consultants and may not be able to differentiate between scrupulous consultants and legitimate legal representation.
Addressing Queen’s University’s new diploma in immigration and citizenship law for immigration consultants, Ravi Jain, national chair of the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Law Section reflected that: “This program is a terrible idea. Graduates will claim that they have ‘gone to law school.’ The public will be even further confused. Most think that they are hiring lawyers when they hire immigration consultants … Immigration consultants have a horrific history in Canada.”
The Act and its regulatory regime are unlikely to resolve this underlying concern and may, therefore, fail to address the abuse of vulnerable applicants coming to Canada in search for education, work, and a new start.