Since Canadian immigration is a rather complex process, retaining a representative to handle immigration cases is a common approach for those with immigration needs.
While ethical and law-abiding immigration consultants help clients smoothly navigate the maze that is Canadian immigration, fraudsters can sometimes seize this opportunity to accumulate wealth for themselves at the cost of their clients’ future. This past June, Sunny Wang, the ghost consultant who cooked up the biggest immigration fraud in Canadian history, was released and allowed to resume his normal life, leaving a $900,000 fine unpaid. But what happened to his unfortunate ex-clients? A whopping 1,081 of them (out of a total of 1,200) were eventually removed from Canada. Nobody wants to become a victim of immigration fraud, so how can immigration clients avoid it?
1. Be Alert to the Illegal Practices of Ghost Consultants
There are two types of representatives in Canada: authorized representatives and unauthorized representatives. The former consists of Canadian lawyers and Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants (RCICs). The latter could be anyone: a friend, a family member, or a non-governmental or religious organization.
Authorized representatives are professionally trained and regulated by their governing bodies. Their governing bodies, the provincial or territorial law societies and the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), depending on the type of authorized representatives, oversee the practice of these professionals to protect the general public, which is their principal mandate. If a dispute arises between a client and their authorized representative and the two parties fail to reach a settlement, the client may file a complaint to the relevant governing body to arrive at a solution.
As per immigration law, only authorized representatives are permitted to provide immigration services for a fee. Unauthorized representatives are committing a crime if they receive any consideration for their immigration services. Those who are unauthorized yet exchange their immigration services for remuneration, like Mr. Wang did, are considered “ghost consultants” – so named because they operate outside the visible confines of the regulatory environment. To hire a ghost consultant is to expose oneself to immigration fraud – the very first thing that applicants should be on the lookout for and avoid at all costs.
2. Check the Representative’s Status Before Retaining One
Retaining an authorized representative is in the best interest of a client for two reasons. First, the quality of the services is guaranteed, and second, a particular governing body safeguards both the client and the process itself. When retaining either a lawyer or an RCIC, however, it is still necessary to verify their status with the specific governing body that regulates them. Hiring a member who is not in good standing with their governing body is risky. In such a situation, the governing body probably does not possess the necessary jurisdiction to deal with a complaint against such a member. As a result, the client would be forced to resolve future issues, should they arise, through the costly judicial system, rather than through the governing body.
A recent case involving disbarred lawyer Angela Codina, who deceived multiple clients even after she had been disbarred in 2002, serves as a bitter reminder of the importance of status verification. The clients retained her services because they mistakenly believed that they were dealing with a lawyer. To verify a representative’s status, a client can access the website of the applicable regulator. All the regulators have a directory indicating their members’ up-to-date status. Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship of Canada (IRCC) also provides a user-friendly webpage, facilitating public access to regulators’ websites.
3. Pay Attention to the Use of Representative Form
Compensated or not, when an individual deals with immigration matters on someone else’s behalf, using IRCC’s Use of Representative form (IMM5476) to disclose the representation is a must. The form effectively acts as a deterrent against immigration fraud by requesting the authorized representative’s licence number. Thus, whenever the representative fails to use this form or does not present such a number, the client should simply walk away.
4. Understand the Retainer Agreement Before Signing
When a client entrusts their immigration matter to a representative, the first document to be signed is usually the retainer agreement. The agreement is the contract between an authorized representative and a client that sets out the business arrangement between them. Such an arrangement usually includes: the information of the parties concerned, the matter and scope of services, the payable fee and payment terms, obligations and rights of the parties involved, liability for breach of the agreement, issues of dispute, refund policy, modification and termination of the agreement, etc. This legal document is binding to the signatories. Only by fulling grasping its contents will the client understand where they are and where the agreement will lead them. So for the client’s own good, understanding the document before signing it is yet another must.
5. Never Sign Blank Forms
After having retained a representative, it is easy for some clients to let the representative attend to all facets of the process, either out of trust or lack of due diligence. All things being equal, having confidence in one’s representative should not equate to ignoring one’s own affairs, an unfortunate corollary that can often lead to disastrous consequences.
In Sunny Wang’s case, most of his clients had very limited knowledge of English, so they wholly entrusted their immigration matters to Mr. Wang by signing blank forms. When these same clients were being investigated for misrepresentation, the immigration lawyers and RCICs that they hired to defend them argued that their clients had merely left signed blank forms to Mr. Wang, which was naïve perhaps, but wholly innocent.
The eventual removal of Mr. Wang’s victims made it clear that the immigration authorities, namely the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), and the Federal Court viewed this fact in a much harsher light. Indeed, they accepted the argument, made by the lawyer representing the government, that the victims had been “willfully blind to what was going on.”
The takeaway from this lesson is obvious: refrain from signing blank documents and forms under any circumstances.
6. Be Truthful and Sensible
In addition to seeking the help of authorized immigration professionals, being truthful and sensible are the best strategies to avoid falling prey to immigration fraud.
Immigration law requires applicants to provide accurate information and documents; the consequences of disobedience are severe. Untruthfulness will most likely lead an applicant to misrepresentation charges, which will ban him or her from entering Canada for five years.
As for being sensible, clients should understand their unique situation and should not harbour unrealistic expectations. Authorized representatives are there to provide immigration services according to the client’s situation and immigration law. They cannot, however, decide on the client’s application, nor should they alter any information or documentation provided by the client to achieve this end. The representative’s guarantee resides in the quality of services, not the result. The latter is at the sole discretion of the government.
In short, the best way to avoid immigration fraud is to be vigilant and honest, and to take your own immigration seriously. If you or someone you know encounters immigration fraud, please report it to the CBSA at 1-888-502-9060.