Regulating Immigration Consultants and Cracking Down on Ghost Consultants

According to Fraud Watchers, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC) has just over 1,000 authorized members, but the watchdog group estimates an additional 5,000 unauthorized “ghost” consultants operate in Canada, and likely many thousands more in other countries. Some of the unauthorized consultants in Canada have convincing websites with addresses and phone numbers. In some cases they may even claim to be CSIC members and use the CSIC logo. So they appear legitimate, but they are anything but. They will often accept payments via Western Union or MoneyGram money transfer, or cash. Some will accept cheques, money orders and bank transfers, but will not supply a written receipt or a detailed contract.

Although the CSIC is trying to ensure that their 1,728 members are providing competent service to immigrants, they have been strongly criticized for not doing enough to regulate immigration consultants. Since 2004, only 800 agents have been shut out of the CSIC because they didn’t meet its standards, and only 225 consultants have been disciplined for misconduct. The CSIC has stated many times that only the federal government has the authority to close the legal loopholes that allow ghost agents to operate with impunity.

Finally, the federal government listened, and on June 8, 2010, tabled Bill C-35, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to regulate immigration consultants. The bill will also crack down on consultants that are untrained, unregulated and dishonest, referred to as “ghost consultants” because their names don’t appear on the documents their clients submit. They are also accused of charging high fees for advice that leads prospective immigrants to submit fraudulent applications.

If enacted, the Act will provide that no person shall knowingly represent or advise a person for consideration—or offer to do so—in connection with an immigration proceeding or application unless the person is a lawyer that is a member in good standing of a provincial or territorial law society, or a member of a body designated by the government, effectively making it a criminal offence to operate as an unlicensed immigration consultant.

Note that the prohibition does not require that the person actually provide any advice. Even offering to do so for a fee is prohibited.

The bill will create a recognized regulating body for immigration consultants, and give the Immigration Minister more power to oversee the body and its members (excluding immigration lawyers). In addition, the bill will close loopholes that prevent the minister from sharing information with the regulator to enforce the laws.

The bill also proposes stiff fines of up to $50,000, and possible jail terms of up to two years for breaking the rules.

The CSIC is not guaranteed to be the new regulating body; however, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has said the society can apply for the job when the upcoming competition begins.

Nigel Thomson, chair of the CSIC, said he welcomes the legislative changes announced by Mr. Kenney, and adds:

The minister has promised an open and transparent process to appoint a national regulator. CSIC is going to participate in that process. We believe that if we get a close look at what has transpired at CSIC over the last four years we’ll be seen to be a mature organization, a professional regulator that is achieving the goal of consumer protection.”

I question the private sector’s (at large) involvement in the immigration system. Wouldn’t the public be better served if the immigration process were handled only by immigration lawyers or trained and licensed government employees?

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Comments

  1. As a professional who provides consulting services to regulatory bodies, I have looked at the structure and best practices of many regulatory body over time and I have always been struck by the weaknesses associated with CSIC. It lacked statutory underpinning in the fullest sense and lacked the ability to prosecute unauthorized practise. Attacks against the CSIC board or it management for being ineffective is, in my view, misdirected where the regulatory body can be viewed more as an “association” to regulate those who elect to join – thus leaving a large chasm created by practitioners who refuse to become member – a fatal design flaw created by the government when it laid the groundwork to establish CSIC.

    A quick review of CSIC information tells you that it has a professional code, education requirements, and a myriad of regulatory best practices at hand – but what more can it do when it’s inherent structure lacks jurisdiction over practitioners who are not registered. I know from my Ontario experience, lawyers, accountants, real estate brokers/agents, medical professionals etc are not regulated in the same manner as are immigration consultants – try unauthorized practice as a paralegal or lawyer in Ontario – prosecution will await you is short order.

    Who ultimately is appointed to regulate immigration consultants will soon be decided, but at least this group will be provided with the ability to regulate unauthorized practise – it seems it has taken the government too long to determine that this provision is the answer to repairing the current regulatory weakness relating to immigration consultants.