Each year, tens of thou-sands of people come to Canada to start a new life. They come from different corners of the world and for different reasons. While each one’s story is unique, they all go through the common process of immigration.
Or so you might think.
Because though the process is common to all, the approach varies from individual to individual, and those that are represented by an unscrupulous immigration consultant, or even a not-so-informed one, can be caught up in situations that can only be described as unpleasant.
John Ryan, the acting CEO of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC), says people should do due diligence and check out the immigration consultant before signing a contract. “If everything is not as it should be, they should put their money in their pocket and run the other way.”
Ryan, who has his own immigration consultancy firm, Visa Seminars International, based in Victoria, British Columbia, was a Canadian immigration officer until 1994 and knows the intricacies of the system from both sides.
He estimates his firm has helped “many, many, many thousands” come to Canada, and says people go to the wrong consultant because they haven’t done their homework.
CSIC currently has 1740 certified immigration consultants. Every CSIC member goes through a stringent process to earn its certification. They are required to do a college immigration program, pass a language test in English or French, write a professional exam and also show good character – prove that they have no criminal record.
“The Society conducts in-depth background checks,” says Ryan. “But no matter how hard the tests, we can’t legislate honesty. There are good consultants and there are bad consultants – our job is to root out the bad ones through disciplinary hearings.”
Immigration consultants who provide less than stellar service are either corrected or removed from the Society. But remember, this applies only to those who are members of the society. Clients of consultants who do not belong to the society, have few re-courses.
The Society receives complaints about everything from quality of service to ‘ghost’ consultants who are not members.
“Some case transgressions are outrageous,” says Ryan. “We hear cases of people bilked of their life savings with nothing to show for their dreams. It can be very nasty.”
He mentions cases of people who find themselves in front of the immigration and refugee board because they were not guided properly through the immigration process. Some of these people can end up in harm’s way if they are deported to their country of origin.
The The Society receives complaints on many and varied subjects. Everything from quality of service to right out ‘ghost’ consultants who are not members.
People can find themselves in front of the immigration and refugee board because they were not guided properly through the immigration process. And some of them can end up in harm’s way if they are deported to the country of origin.
The Society conducts a full investigation into each complaint that is received. The hearing tribunal has the right to take away the right to practice. In situations that the consultant is found wanting he or she may be fined or ask-ed to re-educate himself or herself.
A mandatory errors and omissions insurance allows a client to seek compensation if his application is rejected because information was not filed properly. A compensation fund is available for those who are victimized by an act of a Society member.
The most important first step for would-be immigrants is to check out their immigration consultant, stresses Ryan.
Only members of the CSIC (where the consultants are not immigration lawyers), the Law Society (in case of lawyers) and Chambre de Notaire, for Quebec, are recognized by the government of Canada as being eligible to help people with the immigration process.
“If you are thinking of hiring a consultant, ask this of them: ‘Are you legally able to do this under Canadian law?’ If the answer is yes, confirm if they are in good standing with the above organizations. Then, and only then, enter into an agreement.”
Ryan says the written contract should not only outline your responsibilities and those of the consultant, the amount you have to pay and when to pay, but also whom to complain to should some-thing go wrong.
“The checks and balances are always changing and evolving. We are constantly tightening the controls with the aim to protect immigrants who have little or no knowledge of Canadian law. My philosophy is that consumer protection comes first.”
Depinder Singh, CEO of Vision Immigration and Settlement Abroad (VISA) based in Brampton, Ontario, has helped countless people immigrate to Canada from all over the world.
VISA has offices in Toronto, India (Ludhiana, Chandigarh), Abu Dhabi, Australia (Brisbane, Melbourne), and a staff of nearly 100 who advise people on the immigration process.
VISA is a rarity among Canadian immigration agencies in that they have also earned the coveted ISO 9001-2008 certification.
“I am a CSIC member and my staff is trained to provide detailed and correct information on whichever category a prospective client is applying under: Skilled workers, family class, business class, students, work permits and PNP programs for various Canadian provinces...We also handle appeals.”
Now people applying under the Skilled Worker category, for instance, can hope to complete the immigration process in under 12 months, says Singh.
“Also, the Canadian government has a new program for Indian students – Student Pilot Project or SPP – under which studying in Canada can lead to permanent residency in Canada.”
Singh, has also helped arrange visas for family members over-seas to visit family in Canada.