October 31, 2016

Negative Messaging About Immigration Representatives Must Change

Posted by Mario Bellissimo - Bellissimo Law Group PC

Want to hire an immigration representative?

The information on the Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada website reads here.

Representatives can be:

  •  Citizenship or immigration consultants, lawyers or other representatives
  • They give immigration or citizenship advice and help to visa applicants, usually for a fee
  • You do not need to hire a representative. It is up to you. Using one will not get your application special attention or guarantee it will be approved.
  • You can get all the forms and information that you need to apply for a visa or citizenship for free on this website
  • If you follow the instructions in the application guide, you should be able to fill out the forms and submit them on your own.

Use a representative

If you choose to use a representative, find out about the two types: paid and unpaid.

File a complaint

If you have a complaint about your representative, there are ways you can get help. A video and various fraud warnings relate to this page.

The linking pages provides tips on representatives. Some of the tips include:

  • If you are using a representative in Canada, you can also contact the Better Business Bureau before you choose one. It can tell you if it has had complaints about a citizenship or immigration consultant, lawyer or other representative who works in Canada.

Find a representative

  • Once you have chosen a representative, make sure you get a written contract. Read it carefully before you sign it. Make sure it lists all the services the representative will give you and clearly states the fee
  • Do not leave original documents or photos with them
  • Do not sign blank application forms
  • Do not sign forms or documents unless you can read them. If you do not understand them, bring someone with you to translate
  • Make sure to get copies of any documents that the representative makes for you.

. . . etcetera  . . .

In this context, a fulsome review cannot be presented but on a whole in reviewing the IRCC and CBSA websites respectively, it becomes apparent that the focus of the communication regarding representatives is that of unlawful and/or unscrupulous practitioners or who can represent.  Although the aim is important and appropriate, namely the protection of the public, the result is a generalization and a presentation of a distorted picture with little mention of the critical role immigration representatives’ play.  In short, the presentation as it currently reads amounts to a marginalization of representatives in a process in which they overwhelmingly play a critical role.  This is in stark contrast to other industry websites that more thoughtfully and purposefully present a more balanced presentation of lawyers in family law or corporate matters.   For examples, please click here and here.

Strikingly, there are few if any IRCC or CBSA postings which focus on the benefits of hiring a representative.  The end result is a message that in part fuels a perception that representation in this area of law can only be perilous and one that may better require the use of other and not necessarily regulated professionals.

To present balanced information these sites should properly highlight the qualifications and expertise of representatives and convey to the readers information and guidance beyond simply the Better Business Bureau.  Offer proper links to avoid underrepresentation or unregulated representation.  The onus is then placed on applicants to make an independent decision about hiring an immigration representative.  Perhaps a better message would be to include the story of Mr. Al Shikarchy.

Mr. Al-Shikarchy sponsored his intended adoptive daughter for permanent residence in Canada. He filed the application before the child was 18, but the application was not processed until after she turned 18. The law required that she remain under 18 at both stages. The website was not clear on this point and in fact as an unrepresented sponsor relying on the website as his counsel, the consequences to Mr. Al-Shikarchy’s family was disastrous. The board’s ruling reads in part:

[64] The appellant accordingly relies in part on departmental pronunciations in their manuals, etc. Some such pronunciations indicate that in certain categories of family class membership the date of the filing of the sponsorship application is the date for fixing when the “under 18 years of age” requirement is applicable or operative. Be that as it may, such pronunciations are neither law nor made applicable to the family class category of “intended adopted children”. These documents and the information on the website as indicated are not law and have no binding effect. There is no indication in those documents that the contents of the same supersede or replace the law.

[67] . . . Regrettably, the law is complex and those who seek to negotiate the various pitfalls and nuances unaided by professionals may encounter hardship and disappointment. To avoid the same, it was open for the appellant to seek legal advice as to how the information he had was to operate in the legal framework of IRPA. It appears and the panel so finds that the appellant made a conscious choice not to do that and did not seek legal advice until too late.[1]