Thursday, August 22, 2013


Immigration consultants raise concerns about government crackdown on fake practitioners

Immigration consultants raise concerns about government crackdown on fake practitioners



Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP investigated hundreds of complaints involving 'unauthorized representatives' suspected of illegally charging would-be newcomers for immigration advice.

Photograph by: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press/Files, Postmedia News

OTTAWA — Two years after the federal government overhauled the regulatory process for immigration consultants and stepped up efforts to eradicate so-called “crooked” practitioners, some are raising questions about the results.
New figures released this month by the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) — which replaced the problem-plagued Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants — indicate the self-regulating body received a total of 1,093 complaints from its inception in 2011 to the end of May.
Of them, 372 involved “unauthorized representatives” suspected of illegally charging would-be newcomers for immigration advice — an offence under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act since March 2011 that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison or a $100,000 fine if convicted.
After being vetted by an arm’s-length team of former police officers, the complaints were forwarded to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and RCMP for follow-up along with 14 complaints involving licensed consultants suspected of criminality.
But despite strong government rhetoric that some say unfairly tars all consultants with the same brush, there are concerns about government follow-up and Canada’s ability to deal with illegal consultants operating outside the country.
“The government seems completely unwilling or unable to enforce all these new rules they put in,” said Kerry Molitor, a Toronto-based immigration consultant who obtained figures from the CBSA through access-to-information legislation that appear to contradict those of the ICCRC. “I don’t understand why … complaints to the ICCRC don’t appear to be getting dealt with.”
The CBSA figures suggest it received just 65 leads from the ICCRC between the regulator’s inception and the end of 2012. Of those leads, it opened three cases. Two were closed with no charges.
The CBSA received another 216 complaints from “other sources” over the same period. Of them, 56 cases were opened, six charges were laid, and three ended in guilty verdicts. Three cases were still before the courts, 28 were still under investigation and 22 were closed with no charges laid.
The CBSA said “other sources” include complaints from police and anonymous tipsters as well as complaints made to divisions other than the agency’s criminal investigations branch, though it’s not clear ICCRC complaints would be among them. The discrepancy in numbers could be explained, in part, by the fact ICCRC figures may involve multiple complaints against the same person, while CBSA figures only track individuals.
Government documents also noted “a lead would not be turned into a case for a variety of reasons,” including if “no charges are identified, limited evidence (is) available (and if the) consultant is not practicing in the country.”
Molitor argues the federal government has unfairly singled out consultants as the chief perpetrators of fraud and despite the regulator’s best efforts to clean up the profession’s image and rein in the impersonators, she worries about the lack of enforcement.
“I think the public is being misled that all these actions are being taken when they’re really not,” she said.
Former ICCRC president and current member Phil Mooney said it would “send a huge message out to everybody” if a few prominent cases were brought to court and he’s “disturbed” as to why this hasn’t yet happened two years into the ICCRC’s mandate.
As for “fake” overseas consultants, he said there’s more the government could do even if those individuals are immune from prosecution. Listing unauthorized practitioners online, for example, would provide would-be newcomers with valuable information about who not to trust. He urges the ICCRC to also send letters to unauthorized consultants to let them know they are being watched.
Instead of discouraging newcomers from seeking third-party support, consultants say the government should also focus on clarifying who is and isn’t authorized — the latter of which includes international student advisers here in Canada as well as foreign lawyers and human resources specialists who commonly provide clients with things like work permit advice about Canada.
Current ICCRC president Bob Brack said it’s not clear how many complaints involve overseas consultants but suggested the bulk are from within Canada since it’s difficult to identify overseas fraudsters who often keep their names off the paperwork. As such he too “wonders why we haven’t seen more concrete action” on cases referred to the CBSA.
In a recent letter to members, however, he said Canadian authorities have worked with foreign counterparts to tackle the problem of illegal overseas consultants. Such efforts led to the arrest of several unauthorized consultants in India, he said. He said efforts are also underway to launch a “public affairs campaign” next year, either alone or jointly with Citizenship and Immigration, to “inform the public of the value and necessity of using only authorized representatives.”
Meanwhile, of the complaints dealt internally by the ICCRC, more than 300 were deemed unfounded or could not be proven, 44 were mediated or resolved internally, 10 involved lawyers providing immigration advice and thus were forwarded to the appropriate law society, and some 93 complaints against members were referred to the ICCRC’s complaints committee which will decide if disciplinary action is warranted.
So far, only two consultants were listed as facing disciplinary action and no hearings have been held or scheduled to date. Nine members had their credentials revoked for administrative reasons, namely not paying their membership dues or failing to complete a required course. The chief complaints against regulated immigration consultants relate to professionalism, ethics, quality of service and competence.
Brack said it’s taken two years for the disciplinary process to get underway because the ICCRC was created from scratch and as a quasi-judicial process, the “rule of law” and “due process” take time.

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