I read with interest Steven Meurrens’ well-thought-out Policy Options article on “unscrupulous immigration consultants.” I agree with everything in Meurrens’ submission, except for his use of the word “consultants” to describe the problem. Of course there are some unethical immigration consultants in Canada. There are also unethical lawyers, doctors, realtors, etc. Sadly, every licensed profession has a few of these. But the bad apples are not the norm.
As a former Canadian Foreign Service officer, I know from first-hand experience that Canada’s immigration system benefits considerably from the contribution of ethical immigration lawyers and consultants. Consultants, per se, are not the problem. The real problem is the countless fraudsters and scammers around the world who sell themselves as bona fide visa agents and offer false promises of guaranteed jobs in Canada and visas to get here. They are not immigration consultants. They are simply con artists posing as visa agents.
Canada’s immigration system is complex. It is governed by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and its regulations and subject to interpretation by ever-changing policies, programs and procedures. To process cases with confidence, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) asks for a great deal of information from applicants, supported by documentation that is subject to rigorous “completeness checks” by IRCC staff.
During my numerous overseas postings as a Canadian visa officer and an immigration program manager, I came to appreciate the value-added brought to complex immigration cases by knowledgeable immigration lawyers and consultants. The immigration system benefits greatly from the hard work of the many immigration professionals and staff who ensure that their clients’ immigration submissions are very well prepared. The recognition of this useful contribution led the government to create a Web portal specifically for the use of authorized paid representatives, which allows recognized professionals to apply online on behalf of clients. The system ties in beautifully with Canada’s modernized approach to online processing.
Many applicants can navigate the system on their own. But just as we are not all able to repair our cars, do our own wills or manage our investments, some overseas visa applicants want to use a professional to do it for them. Canada has a responsibility to steer clients of Canada’s visa services to professionals who can assist them, if they wish.
In 2013 I became a licensed member of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council. Since then I have received numerous inquiries from people outside Canada asking me about the validity of job offers, Canadian visa documents and other attractive propositions — ones that are patently bogus. Yet, desperate to get to Canada, the inquirers hope they are real.
Many observers call for more to be done outside Canada to deal with the fake visa agents. This is a worthy goal. However, it requires commitment, significant resources and considerable cooperation from local authorities. It is a mid to long-term goal.
For now, measures that can be taken immediately can be found in the June 2017 report of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants. The committee clearly recognizes that a multifaceted approach is required. I was pleased to see the committee recommend more public education and awareness about the Canadian immigration consultancy profession. Recommendation 6 proposes that the regulator of Canada’s immigration consultants “shall be authorized and encouraged to engage in public education about the profession”; recommendation 13 asks, among other things, that IRCC “explain the risks in using unregistered consultants” — the fake visa agents around the world.
I hope that these recommendations will lead to greater effort by the regulator and the federal government to promote the benefits of using authorized Canadian immigration consultants and warn would-be applicants about the serious consequences of hiring the scammers and crooks. Educating the public on these matters goes to the core of the regulator’s consumer protection mandate.
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