Politics

MPs recommend new immigration watchdog to crack down on crooked and 'ghost' consultants

A committee of MPs wants a radical overhaul how immigration consultants are regulated in Canada, and recommends disbanding the existing council and creating more robust government oversight.

Committee calls on government to create an independent body to investigate, oversee burgeoning sector

A Canadian flag is held during a citizenship ceremony at the World Cup of Hockey Fan Village in Toronto on Sept. 20, 2016. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

A committee of MPs wants a radical overhaul of how immigration consultants are regulated in Canada, and recommends disbanding the existing council and creating more robust government oversight.

In a report tabled today, called Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants, the standing committee on citizenship and immigration calls for the creation of an independent, government-regulated body to oversee immigration consultants.

To avoid actual or apparent conflicts of interest, the committee recommends the new body report to a minister other than the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.

As soon as the new body is up and running, the government should revoke the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council's designation as the regulatory body, the committee recommends.

"Canada's current regulatory body that governs immigration and citizenship consultants and paralegals is unable to serve its purpose," the report concludes. "The committee calls for a new regulatory framework governing immigration and citizenship consultants and paralegals that gives the government a stronger oversight role."

The committee says only lawyers and consultants admitted to the profession by the new regulatory body should be authorized to accept payments for immigration services, and that members should have more rigorous standards for admission in terms of training, education and ethics.

The committee launched the study last fall, and heard from 50 witnesses during eight meetings, including some who shared harrowing stories during closed-door hearings. Newcomers often turn to third parties to help them navigate what can be a challenging application process, and MPs heard that many people are being exploited in the current system.

"Unfortunately, in some cases, unscrupulous representatives take advantage of these individuals, which may have dire consequences for applicants, including delays with immigration applications, financial hardship and losing legal immigration status in Canada," the report reads.

'Ghost consultants'

The committee heard from witnesses about how the current regulatory framework does not protect the public from unscrupulous, unethical or fraudulent consultants. The Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP are tasked with investigating unauthorized "ghost consultants," but many duped clients don't lodge complaints because they fear it will hurt their application.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act sets out the consultants and paralegals who are legally allowed to provide help or assistance for a fee, called an "authorized representative," but the committee heard about shortcomings in dealing with the problem, as well as inner turmoil at the oversight body itself.

Awareness blitz in foreign markets

MPs on the panel also urged the government to raise awareness in foreign markets about unauthorized agents, and that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada improve the call centre to provide basic information in languages most commonly used by prospective immigrants.

The committee made 21 recommendations, including:

  • That the new regulatory body develop a system of tiered licensing for categories of services individual consultants are allowed to provide.
  • The new body should have investigative and disciplinary powers when an immigration consultant fails to meet standards of learning, professional competence or conduct, and also be encouraged to engage in public education about the profession and engage in dispute resolution over fees.
  • The government should provide enough funding for CBSA to investigate complaints about ghost consultants, and that fines and penalties be reviewed and increased.
  • The government should provide more financial support to settlement agencies to provide basic immigration services.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen's office said he will review the committee report and table a response, but could not provide a timeframe.

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