This past June, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration issued a report called Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants. The report reviews the ways in which immigration consultants are currently regulated and finds several gaps that, in some cases, have allowed abuses of the immigration system and victimization of clients. It goes on to make 21 recommendations for improvement.
On December 4th, the House voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations contained in the Standing Committee’s report. The Hon. Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, responded by stating that IRCC agrees with the “general intent and objectives” of the report, but did not commit to implementing any of the recommendations, citing the need for “careful, thorough and serious consideration” before any action is taken. He did, however, indicate an intention to strengthen regulations and said IRCC would continue to monitor the situation.
Currently, immigration consultants and paralegals are regulated by the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council. Only members of ICCRC or lawyers – who are regulated by provincial law societies – are permitted to represent paying clients before IRCC. (NGOs and applicants’ friends and family are also permitted to help, as long as they don’t accept payment for doing so.) If ICCRC receives a complaint about a member then it can investigate and reprimand, but only the Canadian Border Services Agency has the authority to enforce the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (with authority for certain offences like trafficking delegated to the RCMP). That means that cases involving fraud or misrepresentation fall to the CBSA, which has only enough resources to go after the biggest offenders, such as those with multiple complaints against them. And clients who have been wronged by a consultant or someone pretending to be a consultant may not want to file a complaint at all for fear that it will put their immigration status at risk.
The Standing Committee’s report recommends revoking the ICCRC’s designation and forming a new, independent regulatory body that would function more like the provincial law societies, with higher standards for membership and greater authority to investigate and impose penalties when there are complaints. It also recommends that if IRCC suspects that an unauthorized person claiming to be a consultant helped someone to apply for status, that person should be given the opportunity to make corrections without harm to their application.
Whether any or all of the Standing Committee’s recommendations will be put into action remains to be seen. The House of Commons has given its clear and wholehearted endorsement of the report; we now await the Ministry’s “thorough and serious consideration.”