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March 1, 2024

Five red flags to watch out for when choosing an immigration representative

Amidst a recent surge in fraudulent immigration practices, particularly those targeting asylum seekers, this article will outline five signs that immigration candidates may be dealing with someone aiming to take advantage of their desire to immigrate to Canada.

March is Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada‘s (IRCC’s) fraud prevention month. As Canada continues to be a beacon for individuals worldwide seeking to work, study, and build a life, the spotlight on immigration fraud becomes increasingly significant. This year’s theme, “20 years of fighting fraud: From then to now,” emphasizes the evolution of fraudulent tactics, shifting from traditional methods to sophisticated scams involving social media and Artificial Intelligence. Canada’s commitment to protecting Canadians and newcomers is crucial in a landscape where the desire for a Canadian life can make potential immigrants vulnerable to deceit.

According to the President of the Montreal Bar Association, David Ettedgui, the organization experienced a 26% increase – from 13% to 39% – in “immigration-related grievances” from 2018 to 2022.

Ettedgui says these numbers represent “only the tip of the iceberg” concerning fraudulent behaviour committed by bad actors in the Canadian immigration space. He noted that the Montreal Bar Association recently launched an “awareness campaign” to “prevent people from falling victim to these scam artists.” This is according to a CBC News story published when the campaign first began in mid-February.

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However, immigration fraud is a problem in more places than just Montreal. Therefore, it is important for all foreign nationals to know what to look out for when retaining an immigration representative and how to identify legitimate legal representatives versus bad actors looking to take their money. This is true of both those currently immigrating to Canada and those considering Canadian immigration in the future.

Five red flags

The following will outline five critical warning signs to be aware of when selecting an immigration representative, whether a lawyer or a consultant.

Red flag #1: Unverified credentials

IRCC clarifies that, for a legitimate immigration representative to legally provide advice or represent Canadian immigrants, they must be licensed by the appropriate regulatory body for their profession. Fraudulent actors will often have unverified credentials that cannot be confirmed

Specifically, citizenship or immigration consultants must be registered as members of the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants. Likewise, lawyers and notaries across Canada must be members of the law society in their province or territory. Finally, in Ontario, paralegals across the province must be registered with the Law Society of Ontario.

Note: In Quebec, notaries must be registered with the Chambre des notaires du Québec.

IRCC cautions Canadian immigrants to check if a person is a member in good standing, which most law societies allow you to do online, and not use the services of an individual who is not in good standing with their respective law society.

Red flag #2: Requests for cash payments without receipts

Legitimate and licensed immigration representatives will always provide detailed billing documentation to their clients. Therefore, Canadian immigration candidates should understand the risk associated with any representative who requests/demands cash payments for their services without providing proper receipts or invoices.

Red flag #3: Lack of official documents

Documentation plays a critical role in the Canadian immigration process.

As cited by CBC News, Ankit Joshi was an Indian national who was scammed by a fraudulent immigration consultant when immigrating from Australia to Halifax. CBC says that, when it came to Joshi, “the unauthorized consultant created fraudulent documents and never submitted Joshi’s papers to the immigration department.”

This reality emphasizes the importance of ensuring that immigration candidates work with licensed representatives because this behaviour, as exemplified in Joshi’s case, can put one’s “application and … future in Canada at risk” especially if they are “not … very familiar with the rules and regulations.”

Red flag #4: Services offered outside of professional offices

Licensed immigration representatives will always have an official place of business to conduct meetings with clients. Therefore, as cautioned by CBC News, “meetings held in fast-food restaurants and coffee shops, rather than at a lawyer’s office” are a sign of fraudulent behaviour from an immigration representative because they lack a verifiable office location.

Red flag #5: Promises of guaranteed success or fast processing

Promises of expedited processing for an immigration application or guaranteed success are unrealistic, serving as a clear indication of fraudulent practice.

IRCC publishes both service standards – the length of time, typically displayed in weeks or months, that IRCC has decided it is reasonable to take before the department makes a final decision on an application – and regularly updates its processing times online to give Canadian immigrants an idea of how long it may take for their application to be finalized.

Note: Service standards vary depending on the type of application submitted by a candidate and these timelines only apply to complete applications that include all required supporting documents. IRCC says that the department aims to process 80% of applications across all lines of business within service standards.

Meanwhile, IRCC also clarifies that there is nothing that can completely guarantee success for a Canadian immigration applicant. No matter who represents you, what program you apply to or what country you apply from, guarantees of success with your immigration are simply an attempt to take advantage of desperate foreign nationals seeking a new life in Canada.

Protecting yourself and others

Using the verification tools provided by Canada’s different legal regulatory bodies, Canadian immigration candidates can protect themselves from falling victim to bad actors who are looking to take advantage of vulnerable people.

Those who witness suspicious activity are also encouraged to support their fellow immigrants by reporting such behaviour and helping play a role in Canada’s broader effort to combat immigration fraud.

How a verified immigration lawyer can help

After verifying their legitimacy as an immigration representative through one of the tools above, an experienced Canadian immigration lawyer can be a valuable resource in helping Canadian immigrants on their journey to a new life in this country.

Specifically, an experienced immigration lawyer can:

Help applicants avoid mistakes
Talk/respond to the Canadian government on behalf of an applicant
Help applicants avoid unnecessary delays throughout all application processing steps using their expertise

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