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People seeking help to emigrate to Canada are set to be better protected after the Canadian government announced new legislation to deal with fraudulent immigration consultants.
By Lucy Hyslop
Britons are among thousands exploited by the so-called crooked consultants, who are paid “extortionate amounts of money” by potential immigrants duped into believing they can guarantee them visas, for example, reduce the wait time for applications or claim to have connections in the Canadian immigration department who will expedite the process.
The national police force, the RCMP, and the Canada Border Services Agency are reportedly dealing with hundreds of current investigations into allegations against unscrupulous consultants across Canada. Around a quarter of a million people worldwide emigrate there yearly, while the number of immigrants settling from the UK has doubled in the past decade from approximately 4,500 in 1999 to 9,500 last year.A member of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC), Skerrett has heard from clients who have been given misleading or fraudulent advice from other companies, or told they are eligible for an immigration route when, in fact, they are not. “It leaves their dreams of moving abroad shattered,” she added. “Ghost agents give the industry a bad name and are a thorn in the side of bona-fide consultants trying to offer a quality service. It affects our professional image and the ability to do our work.”
The Canadian government’s Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act aims to close a loophole in the current legislation, which does not regulate any consultants’ involvement in the pre-application period. If passed, it would require all paid-for advice or representation be provided by an authorised immigration consultant, lawyer or notary only. It would also give the government power over the body governing immigration consultants “in order to ensure the integrity of the process”.
Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, said at an earlier conference that, while most immigration consultants working in Canada were professional and ethical, “the unfortunate reality is that many consultants are acting dishonestly or even illegally to profit from people’s dream of coming here.” He cited one case of an exorbitant fee of $90,000 (around £60,000) paid to a crooked consultant by an immigrating family. “These prospective immigrants often find out too late that they’ve been deceived,” Kenney added
While the legislation of course covers Canada only, the minister will be also encouraging foreign governments to tackle the problem of crooked consultants dealing with immigrants to Canada. Jason Kenney is in London next week to talk about these and other immigration issues with Home Secretary Theresa May and Immigration Minister Damian Green as part of the Five Country Conference, comprising the UK, Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand.
With the act increasing the risk of penalties, fines and possible imprisonment, Skerrett hoped that “the fear would be a major deterrent for these ghost agents”. She added, “Brits and immigrants will be better protected through proper representation, and provided with an assurance of quality and competence.”
If anyone is defrauded by an immigration consultant in the UK, they are advised to file a complaint with the local police and inform the Canadian Embassy, said Kelli Fraser, media relations adviser for Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
She pointed out that immigration fraud happens, of course, around the world not just in Canada, but added that it threatens the integrity of Canada’s immigration system. “It also raises security concerns, wastes tax dollars, adds to the processing time for legitimate applications, and it is unfair to those who do follow the rules,” she said.