A new regulatory body for immigration consultants is in the works as part of the federal government's crackdown on scam artists who prey on would-be newcomers to Canada, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced Friday.
The aim of the proposed agency is to protect immigrants from shoddy or dishonest operators, Kenney said.
"There are people who sometimes seek to unethically make a profit by exploiting the hopes and dreams of newcomers," Kenney said.
"These unlicensed, unregistered, unscrupulous consultants give the profession a black eye by taking thousands of dollars from individuals — often in cash — and all too often providing nothing in return."
Ottawa has faced a barrage of complaints over the years about so-called "ghost" consultants, who provide bad or fraudulent advice and counterfeit documents, or take cash up front.
Until now, the industry has been self-policing without formal recognition from Ottawa.
The proposed Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, which will be responsible to Ottawa and regulate immigration consultants, is slated to be up and running by the summer.
It will be charged with ensuring consultants are properly licensed and policed.
The agency is part of a broader federal crackdown on immigration consultants initiated in the form of Bill C-35 last June.
The bill, expected to become law next week, would require — under threat of criminal sanction — that those who act as consultants for pay be licensed, and includes stiff penalties for bogus operators.
Consultants operating abroad would also have to be licensed by the new regulatory council.
While the new law would help deal with scam artists in Canada, Kenney conceded a big part of the problem exists with fraudsters in source countries who are beyond the reach of Canadian justice.
Kenney said he's been talking to his counterparts in immigrant-source countries — he recently was in India and Pakistan —urging them to strengthen their relevant laws.
Government 'missing in action'
Imran Qayyum, chairman of the Canadian Migration Institute, said little appears to have come from Kenney's efforts abroad.
"The federal government's been missing in action when it comes down to trying to address this issue," Qayyum said. "How many 'ghosts' have they put out of business? As far as I know zero."
Currently, bona fide immigration consultants belong to the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, with almost 2,000 members across Canada and overseas.
However, Ottawa has not formally recognized the group, which is not accountable to the federal government and has faced criticism for not dealing with bad apples.
The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants said it was "considering its options" in light of Kenney's announcement.
"We are saddened and surprised that the government has put more than 1,900 accredited consultants and 38 staff members of CSIC in limbo," the society said in a statement.
"The government has opted to designate a third party with no regulatory experience — it could be years before this group can build up the regulator sophistication that CSIC has today."
The government has also launched an advertising blitz at home and abroad in hopes of educating would-be immigrants, in part pointing out that they don't need consultants to apply to Canada.
The campaign also notes that no one can guarantee a successful immigration application.
Opposition critics have said Ottawa is going to have to ensure the new law is properly enforced to have any effect.