Ghost consultants exploit weaknesses in immigration system

Shortly after graduating from high school in Punjab, India, at age 28, Chirag Gill – his real name – applied for a closed work permit under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. With a positive Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) in hand, he was promised a job in agriculture and that his employer would pay for the theft and provide housing. On December 13, 2020 – and $ 50,000 paid to an unlicensed consultant in India later – he arrived in Canada.

Then, when she arrived, the employer asked her for an additional $ 5,000 in order to be able to work.

“After I said ‘no’ I felt lost,” he says in Punjabi, in a video shot with English subtitles by Brampton Immigration Consultancy, a private settlement services agency that handled his case.

“I was the victim of fraud, which caused me a lot of stress.”

Sandeep Singh, Marketing Director at Brampton Immigration Consultancy, has worked in the immigration field since 2008 and registered in 2019 as a Certified Consultant with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC). He says Brampton Consultancy worked with Gill pro bono, and in less than three months his documents were converted into a one-year open work permit.

Unfortunately, he says, he hears similar stories in his Brampton office at least once a week. Last December, NCM reported similar statistics from a Toronto-based agency that said about 20% of its clients had fallen victim to so-called ghost consultants.

This fall, the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CCIC) will replace the current Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), in an attempt – the third since the creation of the first such body in 2008 – to regulate the immigration consulting industry. with additional powers.

But according to Singh, despite the existence of the ICCRC since 2011, far too many newcomers fall prey to unlicensed immigration consultants, either in their home country or once they arrive in Canada, which is why some experts are arguing in question this decision.

The reality is that governments of all stripes have known about the problems that plague the industry “for a long time,” says John Shields, professor of political science in the public policy department at Ryerson University who helped compile a series of reports. reports in 2019 on settlement experiences. of various demographic groups.

Although he welcomes the increased surveillance, he says governments “could have acted more quickly on this matter.”

The Canadian Bar Association is more direct, opposing the self-regulating nature of ICCRC, noting that although it has been on the federal government’s radar since at least 1981, “there is growing evidence that the regulation of immigration consultants remains inadequate ”.

The CBA therefore argues in favor of amending section 91 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act “to allow representation for remuneration only by lawyers who are members in good standing of a bar in Canada. or notaries who are members in good standing of the Chamber. des notaires du Québec ”, as noted in a 2017 report from the CBA’s Immigration Law Section.

While ICCRC was created to regulate and oversee the consulting industry, “from the outset, the organization was held back in fulfilling its full public interest mandate, as it lacked the statutory authority” to sue unlicensed practitioners, John Murray, CEO of ICCRC. said NCM.

Currently, the agency only shares complaints with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). However, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) can “return or deny” any application from anyone caught using unauthorized / unauthorized consultants in Canada or abroad, according to its website.

This means that there is no effective mechanism for people who have been scammed of money by unauthorized consultants to safely file complaints. According to Murray, who became CEO in 2018, ICCRC has lobbied the government for more statutory powers since its inception, including for a mechanism to protect running candidates.

Murray said that although “discussions are underway” with the government on this, he could not provide any updates “at this time.”

But that is precisely what is needed, Shields says.

“Many communities are very sensitive to the idea of ​​coming forward because of their situation,” he told NCM. “So there has to be some sort of system in place that protects their testimony.”

The IRCC acknowledged receipt of a request for comment, but was unable to provide responses before press time.

The planned transformation of ICCRC into CICC this fall will be done under the authority of the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act, which came into effect last December as part of the 2019 federal budget allocation of 51 , $ 9 million over five years and $ 10.1 million annually to overhaul the industry.

“The new law gives us the power to institute injunctions [take action] against unlicensed practitioners and hopefully bankrupt them, ”Murray said.

The College Act will also create “a statutory offense – a felony if you will,” he says – “for providing a service without a license.”

“Coupled with the power of injunction, this is a significant increase in our ability… to deal with unauthorized practitioners. “

Shields agrees that a “heavier hand” is “needed within the system”.

“So the faster they can move in that direction, the better” for newcomers, he said.

Nonetheless, given that CICC will be the third iteration of a regulatory body, this raises the question of why this new body has a better chance of success.

The CBA’s argument against self-regulation of the consulting industry is reinforced by endless reports of fraudulent immigration consultants operating under the supervision of ICCRC. The latest case occurred last February, when an ICCRC-registered paralegal scammed six clients out of $ 155,000 over the past decade, all under ICCRC supervision.

Murray admits that ICCRC has not closely monitored all of its members, and says the CBA, as a regulatory body whose members are in a “distinct competitive position” from immigration consultants, has ” right ”to this notice.

But, he says, the ICCRC has been largely ineffective in dealing with its own certified members due to the fact that “fraud is fraud”, and suggests that every “regulated profession” is vulnerable to it.

“There are those who intend to break the law and will do so regardless of the regulatory regime to which they are subjected,” he said. “Once you are qualified it is very difficult to detect infractions unless and until you have the whole profession at the same level of professionalism.

Nevertheless, he insists, it is “mainly the lack of statutory authority (which) has held back the organization … in the development of our regulatory model”.

“Now that we’ve crossed that threshold, you’re going to see a very different organization. “

For his part, Singh acknowledges that immigration consultants have gained a bad reputation due to the unscrupulous work of ghost consultants and agrees that it can sometimes be difficult for newcomers to know if even registered consultants are acting in good faith.

But he insists that most are there to “help people”, if only for some other reason that, at the end of the day, registered consultants have “something at stake” – namely their license granted by ICCRC and therefore their livelihood – meaning they are more likely to play by the rules.

“On the other side,” he says – for the ghost consultants – “there is no risk. “

While Singh credits the current government for focusing on the immigration sector, he says acting “once in a blue moon” is not enough, adding that the government has “failed to succeed. to educate people about resettlement and also against ghost consultants “, especially overseas. .

Murray says the new Colleges Act will give the CICC “legal authority to act in other jurisdictions.” The challenge, he warns, is to establish the necessary relationships with foreign authorities to “cooperate and enforce Canadian regulations.”

He says they have made “progress in India”, where they are working with the Canadian High Commission there to “raise awareness of the problem of unlicensed consultants”, and expects to do the same in d ‘other countries as the College opens in the fall, although he has not given any details on how this is accomplished.

Fernando Arce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, New Canadian Media

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