Over the last two decades, the Canadian government made efforts to licence and regulate immigration consultants. The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants was the first governing body established by the Canadian government in 2003. Prior to 2003, there was no regulation or oversight of immigration consultants at all. In 2011, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council took over as the governing body. The most recent attempt by the Canadian government was the passage of the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act1 in 2019.
The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act creates a self-regulating regime for immigration consultants and contains provisions for a code of conduct, and a complaints and discipline process.2 Too often, however, clients do not come forward with complaints against immigration consultants when they suffer from poor service or misrepresentation. Filing a complaint will not change immigration outcomes for clients and immigration consultants have extensive personal information on their clients so that clients fear being reported to enforcement authorities.3 An investigative report by the Globe and Mail published in April 2019 details the devastating consequences suffered by those who trusted immigration consultants’ promise of a life in Canada that never materialized.4
Immigration law is complex and can have significant, life-changing consequences for clients. To provide these immigration services, immigration consultants do not need to have a post-secondary degree. They are usually only required to complete a 1- year certification or diploma program and pass a language test and a qualification exam.5 In contrast, becoming a lawyer in Canada requires several years of post-secondary education (usually 4 years for an undergraduate degree and 3 years for a law degree) and one year of apprenticeship as an articling student under the supervision of a practising lawyer. Once licensed to practise law, lawyers continue to be subject to rigorous professional oversight by the provincial law societies. There are requirements to undertake continuing professional development every year, comply with rules relating to professional conduct and ethics, and maintain professional liability insurance, among others.
Now, the CBA Immigration Law Section is calling on the government to protect the public “from negligent and unscrupulous conduct of licensed and unregulated immigration consultants”6 by defining what it means to practise immigration law, and to require that immigration consultants work only under the supervision of lawyers. This proposal recognizes the need to protect the public and prevent further damage to the reputation and integrity of the Canadian immigration process.7
This proposal is part of CBA’s continuing effort to provide supervision and regulatory oversight of those who provide immigration legal services.