CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) advises caution for prospective Canadian newcomers considering Canadian immigration consultants: “Don’t be the victim of a scam! If the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is.” A lack of proper regulation has resulted in many cases of consultant malpractice through the years, which run the gamut from over-charging to false promises to coercing clients into elaborate lies, like false marriages. Without the careful watch of an ethics board, an immigration consultant could claim an impressive list of false credentials to tempt clients, demand enormous fees, half-complete their clients’ application forms or ignore them entirely, and then inform their client that their application was denied by the Canadian government.
As of July 2011, however, new regulations are in place for immigration consultants: only those registered with ICCRC (Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council) may represent clients through Citizenship and Immigration Canada, all of which is regulated strictly through electronic means. These consultants are called Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants (RCICs). RCICs can represent clients both before Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and before the Immigration and Refugee Board at hearings and appeals. And while a lawyer possesses an undeniable mastery of Canadian law that likely outpaces that of an immigration consultants, a registered consultant’s extreme specialization – years of exclusive focus on specific immigration cases – perhaps imbues many with a superior grasp of immigration law and procedures.
Since immigration lawyers have always been deeply entrenched in multiple, overlapping regulatory bodies, instances of unethical behavior are, and have been, rarer throughout the years. Each province has a different sub-society within the Canadian Law Society; Ontario’s is Canadian Law Society for Upper Canada. Immigration lawyers can represent clients before Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and before the Immigration and Refugee Board at hearings and appeals, and before the Federal Court of Canada at a Judicial Review.
Fees differ for both consultants and lawyers, depending both on market conditions, and on the firm or consultant you choose. Extensive research is crucial; don’t be afraid to call and ask for a breakdown of fees. Some firms list fixed fees on their websites, and all should reveal their fee system in a transparent and straightforward during an initial consultation. Recent research into the practises of Canadian immigration consultants reveals that 20% of clients weren’t charged for help with their applications, and most paid less than $5,000.
Beyond excelling at tests and exams, both lawyers and consultants require a strength of character essential for occupations affording power over vulnerable people. This ethical aspect is difficult to quantify, but may occur to you when you meet with them. It’s not immediately obvious whether a consultant or a lawyer is best for you, and before you hire either kind of representative, an extensive background check, along with an examination of your gut feelings, should impact your choice the most. You can check the reputation of your prospective representative here. And when you’ve chosen a representative, it’s imperative that you register their services here. You can find a form that helps you register the cancellation of their services here.
Here’s an at-a-glance breakdown describing key differences and similarities between immigration lawyers and immigration consultants:
- To become licensed, a lawyer must: excel throughout their undergraduate degree and attain excellent LSAT scores, attend law school, complete 10 months of “articling” (practical experience with a firm or licensed lawyer), pass BAR examinations, and gain liability insurance
- Help an array of people with their immigration and visa applications
- Possess mastery of Canadian law, possibly a larger and more detailed understanding of law
- Fees will vary
- Regulated by Canadian Law Society
- To become licensed, an immigration consultant must: attain an accredited immigration certificate or diploma, pass language proficiency test and a pre-admission course for membership into CSIC, gain liability insurance.
- Help an array people with their immigration and visa applications
- Generally highly specialized, only working with immigration cases; likely have superior situational understanding and highly tuned grasp of immigration law
- Fees will vary
- Regulated by Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council ICCRC