Canada faces a staggering immigration backlog. With the border reopening and applicants anxious to get here, how should Ottawa prioritize?

Good overview of the backlog and related issues that IRCC will have to address:

Thanks to COVID-19, Linda Shaji and Canada have had what you might call a bad romance.

After a lengthy vetting process, the 29-year-old from India was approved for permanent residence here on March 20, 2020 — two days after this country’s border was closed.

Now, 16 months later, her Canadian immigration visa has expired and Shaji is still home at her parents’ house, waiting to be admitted into this country.

The worst part is, after all this time, she’s still in the dark — met with automated email responses and told by Canada on its immigration website: “To wait for us to tell you what happens next. You don’t need to contact us again.”

“Ghosting us when we ask questions. Denying anything is wrong. Saying we are too needy when we question the long silence,” Shaji paused, “if this is a relationship, these are some serious red flags.”

The pandemic has wrecked havoc on the entire immigration system, with backlogs for every program — from family reunification to different economic immigration streams — that are only growing.

Now, as the border begins to reopen, the federal government is faced with long lines of disgruntled applicants, all looking to be the first to come in and start new lives in this country, while the bureaucracy struggles to digitalize an outdated case management and processing system.


Since March 18, 2020, when Canada closed its border in the face of the emerging pandemic, the immigration system has ground to a halt. The federal immigration department found itself scrambling to secure laptops for stay-at-home staff and to transition its processing online.

As of July 6, the backlog of permanent residence applications had skyrocketed by 70 per cent to 375,137 since February 2020, with the number of applications for temporary residence currently sitting at 702,660 cases.

The backlog of citizenship applications has also ballooned: it’s reached 369,677 people from 208,069 over the same period. These numbers do not include the applications that have been received at the mailroom of immigration offices but which have yet to be entered into the system.

Amid border lockdowns here and around the world, Canadian officials prioritized foreign nationals whose travels were deemed essential, such as migrant farm workers and health workers. They also responded to the plight of international students, who had paid a fortune to study in Canada and were in immigration limbo.

Wanting to keep the country’s immigration pipeline flowing, but not knowing how long travel restrictions would be in place, officials turned to the huge pool of migrant workers already in Canada to offer some of them permanent residency.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has, meanwhile, been criticized by applicants left, right and centre who have had their lives, careers and dreams put on hold, some facing prolonged separation from spouses and parents or grandparents who are being kept out of the country.

“The growth of the inventory or what is described as backlogs is very much a function of the pandemic. There (was), quite literally, in the case of new permanent residents, no place for them to come to as a result of the travel restrictions,” Mendicino said.

“We hear you. We see you. Each and every one of your cases matters to me and to our department and to our government.”

While Mendicino has boasted about the quick adaptation of the immigration system to the pandemic, often citing the virtual citizenship test and oath-taking ceremony as examples, he has yet to make public a detailed plan or priorities for when the border reopens.

Recently, Canada’s reopening effort reached a new milestone, with the federal government set to welcome fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and green card holders at the land border for non-essential travel beginning on Aug. 9 without having to quarantine, and from other countries beginning Sept. 7.

What Mendicino needs to do immediately, experts and advocates say, is bring in the migrants who have already been vetted and approved for permanent residence but kept outside of Canada.

“All of the backlogs have now been exacerbated. The government has to provide some clear pathways and criteria for prioritization,” said independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, a strong voice on migration, diversity and inclusion in the Senate.

“It should do everything it can to process those people who’ve already been processed. They should be a priority. They’ve put their lives on hold because we’ve selected them. They need to come to Canada. They need to put roots down.”


Shaji quit her job at an artificial intelligence development firm last July, when she got her visa after the visa office in India reopened. But Canada’s door was closed to immigrants even if they had valid visas because it was deemed non-essential travel.

“There is still no set timeline for anyone. It means further agony of waiting,” said Shaji, who has yet to hear from the federal government on what she needs to do regarding her expired documents in order to get here.

“Immigration surely matters to Canada, but do immigrants matter?”

In late June, Ottawa started opening the border to immigrants who have valid permanent residence visas to enter Canada, but the ones with expired documents were told more information would be forthcoming and not to contact officials.

For travellers like Shaji from India, Canada’s top immigrant-source country, getting here is another logistical challenge.

Ottawa has just extended its ban on all flights from India to Aug. 21, meaning even Canadian citizens can’t travel back. The ban was introduced in April due to the unruly surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country.

The pandemic has exposed many shortcomings of the immigration process, said MP Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s immigration critic, and officials must cut unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy in these unprecedented times.

One of the things they could do, she said, is to automatically renew immigration applicants’ expired documents.

Requiring people to scramble to update outdated documents during a pandemic may buy Ottawa time, she noted, but it won’t solve the crisis and is going to further agonize immigration applicants.

“To this day, it is a mystery to me why the government has insisted on contacting each individual with an expired or expiring permanent resident visa to see if they still wanted to come to Canada, instead of just automatically renewing it,” Kwan said.

“Why did they do that? Why did they spend all those resources doing that instead of putting it into processing applications? They need to adopt an approach that’s not so rigid.”


Taraneh Gojgini sponsored her parents, Kaykavoos and Sima Gojgini, both American citizens, to join her in Vancouver from Long Island, N.Y., in 2018. The couple were issued their confirmation of permanent residence in September 2019 and had booked a flight to move here in April 2020. Due to COVID-19, the border was closed and their flight cancelled.

They didn’t hear anything from immigration officials for 10 months until this February, when they were asked if they were still interested in moving to Canada. The couple confirmed their desire to come here but wanted to delay the trip until the summer after most Canadians were expected to have been vaccinated.

Last April, after their visas expired, they were asked again if they were ready to come and told to send in their passports and photos for a new visa. In June, another email came asking them a third time if they planned to come to Canada. This time, they were also told to do a new medical exam.

“My parents are past the point of worry. They are so upset and anxious that there is no calming down their concern at this point,” said Gojgini, who moved to Vancouver in 2011 after marrying her husband, Behzad Pourkarimi. “They have become disillusioned with Canada.”

Kwan said reuniting families, whether spouses or parents, should be a priority for the immigration department, even if it means letting applicants abroad come here first on temporary visas and have their permanent residence applications processed within Canada so families won’t be kept apart even longer.


Suhani Chandrashekar, an engineer, came to Canada from India on a work permit in 2018 and went back to marry Naveen Nagarajappa, a close family friend, in December 2019. She returned to Canada and entered her profile into the skilled immigration pool for permanent residence.

In March 2020, just before COVID was declared a global pandemic, she received an invitation to submit her application under the Canadian Experience Class. Her case has since been stalled.

“Staying away from each other for so long is putting unnecessary strain on our marriage. We are also planning to start a family. But the uncertainty is not helping our cause here,” said the 29-year-old Toronto woman, who also has a pending application to have her husband join her here on a temporary work permit.

“Even after more than a year and a half of marriage, we are not able to see each other.”

Vancouver immigration lawyer Steven Meurrens said many of the permanent residence applications in the backlogs are actually near “finalization,” just pending approvals and admission.

Application backlogs in economic immigration, such as Canadian Experience Class or federal skilled workers, should be quick to clear, he contends, because they are processed online based on points allotted to applicants’ age, education, language test result and related work experience — and only require straightforward document reviews.

The paper-based family class applications, however, will be a problem because these are harder to process remotely and involve more discretionary decision-making by individual officers, and will take longer to finalize.

“The government has shown that where they’re willing to allocate resources and put the effort toward processing files, they can achieve it,” Meurrens said. “If they want, they can clear out this backlog easily.”

To him, the biggest question for Ottawa is whether it has the will to greatly exceed the annual immigration targets that they’d set — 401,000 in 2021; 411,000 in 2022; and 421,000 in 2023 — while simultaneously clearing backlogs and processing new applications that keep coming in.

“Are they prepared to explain to Canadians why immigration levels are going to go up because we’re processing this backlog while maintaining existing plans?” Meurrens asked. “If they don’t do that, they will have more application backlog delays.”

One of the blessings of the pandemic, he said, is that it gave Ottawa the opportunity to transition a large number of migrants on temporary status in Canada, such as precarious low-skilled workers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for immigration, to become permanent residents.

“COVID has reduced that gap between the number of people who work here and the number of people who can immigrate,” said Meurrens. “Otherwise, we risk developing this permanent foreign worker class in Canada.”

Earlier this year, Ottawa introduced a one-time special program to grant permanent residence to 90,000 international graduates and essential migrant workers already in Canada in part to meet its 2021 immigration targets and in part to recognize migrant workers’ contributions to Canada during the pandemic.

Sen. Omidvar said the pandemic has shown Canadians that our economy not only needs highly educated STEM scientists and engineers but also immigrants who deliver essential services such as in agriculture and health care during the crisis.

A 21st-century immigration system needs to recognize those “essential skills” in the labour market that go beyond minimum language requirements and how many university degrees an immigration applicant has, she said.

“Let’s get away from this dichotomy and this unfortunate language of low skills and high skills. It doesn’t suit us anymore in this new era,” Omidvar said. “We need to view the labour market a little bit more broadly than we have done in the past. Coming out of this crisis, that’s the new horizon we need to grasp.”


For front-line immigration officers, many of whom are still working from home, having the proper digitizing infrastructure is key post-COVID-19, said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president of the 27,000-member Canada Employment and Immigration Union.

During the pandemic, immigration staff were not equipped to work from home and some had to take turns going into the office, which only allowed a 20 per cent capacity at one point. Programs were de-prioritized and then reprioritized, and her members — 78 per cent women — weren’t given proper training and support, she said.

“There is a lack of a centralized digitization process. Staff are scanning mailed applications on desktop scanners at their desks in the office. It’s not an effective strategy. Progress is being made, but it is slow,” she said.

Warner said some of the systems are still not upgraded appropriately and crash all the time. Just recently, after a meeting where staff were told that significant investments were being made into the bandwidth and server space, the whole system crashed for the day, nationwide.

“This is ongoing,” she said. “On the one hand, they are digitizing like crazy and on the other hand, the hardware and system upgrades are not keeping pace.”

It’s an issue the federal government is hoping to address with an $800-million investment to modernize the immigration system in its 2021 budget, said the immigration minister.

“That’s the really exciting work that lies ahead of us, which is going to, I think, catapult us into an entirely transformed immigration system,” Mendicino said. “Our system needs to be transformed, needs to be modernized, so that it can accommodate the great demands that are placed on it.”


While the current immigration case management system certainly needs an upgrade, critics said Mendicino must first figure out the vaccination requirement for travellers — both permanent and temporary residents — who don’t meet current border exemptions.

Whether to let someone into the country should be based on vaccination status rather than just about which immigrant group Ottawa wants to prioritize, said Ravi Jain, past president of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration division.

“If people are fully vaccinated, I think we’ve got to start opening up,” he said, adding that processing immigration applications abroad depends very much on how well other countries manage the pandemic and their lockdown conditions, which hinders Ottawa’s priorities.

Ottawa, Jain noted, needs to figure out a vaccine passport that’s easy to enforce and can complement ArriveCan, the government app for travellers to provide travel info before and after entry to Canada, as well as which vaccines should be recognized based on science.

For fairness, he said, officials do need to allow prospective immigrants who have been waiting the longest to come first and start a new life here, as well as fast-tracking investors and businesspeople who can create employment in Canada for its economic recovery.

“I don’t want to say that you prioritize this and that particular group, and everyone else is waiting,” said Jain.

“There’s nothing preventing the government from moving forward on all fronts and on all these issues. What’s been preventing them, frankly, has been the border. That’s been the real sticking point.”

For overseas immigration applicant Maninderjit Singh, it’s simply heartbreaking to see those applying for permanent residence from abroad being shut out from the process.

The lawyer from Punjab, India, entered the federal skilled worker pool in January with 467 points, but the government has not had one single draw for the program.

And time is running out because a candidate loses points with increased age, five points per year as the system targets those in prime working age. Singh’s score has already come down by five points to 462 after he turned 32 recently.

“Thousands of federal skilled worker applicants are getting prejudiced with each passing day. Our life is now at a stand still,” he said. “With reduced score and thousands of new applications adding into the pool, the chances are getting bleak for me to get invited to Canada.”

Source: Canada faces a staggering immigration backlog. With the border reopening and applicants anxious to get here, how should Ottawa prioritize?

Applicants to Canada’s special, one-time immigration program are being forced to navigate the system alone, critics charge

Will be an interesting and important test of IRCC’s modernization efforts. We will see whether the fears of immigration lawyers and consultants are overblown or whether IRCC can design pathways and processes that many can navigate on their own.

Not to be cynical, but simplification in any area or online tools (e.g., will and tax software) often prompt fears of lawyers, accountants and other professionals who benefit from complexity:

With Canada’s highly anticipated special immigration program set to open Thursday, experts say they’re worried about the potential for chaos.

Immigration lawyers briefed about the new program and its portal say they’ve been told applicants must create their own accounts, complete the online application and upload all required documents on their own — without professional legal help.

“There are different forms they need to fill out about family information, travel history, all the (previous) addresses, work history and study periods. They require all the forms and documentations upfront, just shy of the medical and police clearances,” said Toronto lawyer Barbara Jo Caruso.

“Everything needs to be labelled, uploaded and properly attached. If they are not done properly, they will be deemed incomplete and refused.”

The applications are being taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Even if an application is incomplete or an applicant is ineligible, once it’s logged into the portal, it’s counted toward the 90,000 cap under this new program. The system will stop accepting applications once that cap is reached.

Lawyers and consultants asked during the briefing if the portal would reopen if many applicants turned out to be ineligible, but they said immigration officials didn’t have an answer.

The one-time-only immigration pathway, announced in April, aims to grant permanent residence to 90,000 applicants comprising recent international graduates and temporary foreign workers with experience in health-care and essential occupations.

These already-in-Canada candidates have been prioritized to help the country meet its 410,000 annual immigration targets amid uncertainty given the ongoing COVID-19 border restrictions.

The new pathway has already created a buzz — and frenzy — among candidates who have found themselves scrambling to register for one of the two government-designated language tests required to prove language proficiency in their application. (Details about the application process have yet to be published.)

Authorized lawyers and consultants have previously had their own portals with the immigration department that they use to complete and submit applications on behalf of clients.

However, the new stand-alone portal for the new pathway only allows applicants to log in through their personal email and there’s no interface to link their account to their counsel.

“If your whole future depends on this whole process, you want to be fair, you want to be understanding, you want people to have experience in working in the government portal to assist you,” Caruso said.

“It’s tedious work. Government technology is not user-friendly at the best of times, let alone when you are under pressure. There’s a cap and you want to make sure you’re the first one in.”

Among the 90,000 spots of the new program, 20,000 will be dedicated for temporary foreign workers in health care; 30,000 for those in other selected essential occupations; and the remaining 40,000 for international students who graduated from a Canadian institution.

Many of the essential workers will likely have to take time off from work and spend hours to figure out the new pathway application process.

“They are the essential workers. They are the people driving trucks. They’re the people on the front line in the health-care system,” said Toronto immigration lawyer Ravi Jain.

“Many people will apply even if they don’t have their language test results. They are just going to ignore the instructions and hit the submit button. Every time you hit ‘submit,’ you take a spot.”

Last year, the federal government got rid of its first-come-first-serve system for Canadians to sponsor their parents and grandparents abroad as permanent residents after public outrage that the available spots were snapped up within minutes.

It prompted Ottawa to re-introduce a lottery system, in which interested sponsors are now required to first register to enter into the draw, then submit a full sponsorship application if they are selected after duplicate and incomplete forms are weeded out.

“The reality is there are always going to be people who are going to be harmed no matter what direction it goes. There’s a race to file. There are so many things that could go wrong. But then what are the alternatives?” said Mark Holthe, chair of the Canadian Bar Association immigration law section.

“There’s a lot of little nuances with the application that people won’t understand. I envision that we could have up to 20 per cent or even 30 per cent of spoiled applications that people are ineligible who are using up the capped spots.”

Holthe, who started an online course in April to help applicants manoeuvre the basics of the immigration portal, expects the application package for the new pathway to be comparable to the existing one for the immigration of skilled workers.

Anyone interested in applying should start compiling and scanning documentations such as copies of their passports, work permits, reference letters and employment records as these are likely what would be required in the application, he suggested.

There is still time for the immigration department to get the process “right,” says Kareem El-Assal, managing editor of immigration news site CIC News and policy director at CanadaVisa.com.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada deserves credit for trying to accommodate more essential workers and graduates during this crisis,” he said. “But they need to be careful about dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s before they launch the (pathway) streams.”

Alexander Cohen, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s press secretary, said his office is aware of the concerns raised regarding the access to the new portal.

“We remain in close contact with several key stakeholders and are looking into this,” Cohen told the Star.

Source: Applicants to Canada’s special, one-time immigration program are being forced to navigate the system alone, critics charge

This program lets global investors buy a Canadian business — then hire themselves as foreign workers. Proposed changes will kill it, some say

Would be helpful to have a formal IRCC/ESDC evaluation of this “loophole” and the outcomes of those availing themselves of it (IRCC’s evaluation of the investor immigrant program resulted in the program being killed under the previous government given its limited contribution to the economy):

With years of experience managing a travel agency in Saudi Arabia, Asgar Khan spotted an investment opportunity in Canada’s home-care sector.

So he purchased a franchised senior-care agency and applied for a special government approval document — an owner/operator LMIA.

The document is designed to attract migrant investors who want to start a business in Canada then come to this country on a temporary work permit so they can run it.

Now, almost two years after he opened his first Right at Home Canada location in Ajax, Ont., Khan has bought the right to open a second outlet in Kingston. He says he has 57 employees, from personal support workers to nurses, between his two locations.

“The owner/operator LMIA is a great program for people who want to run their own businesses in Canada,” says the 38-year-old native of India, who is in Canada on a work permit. “The (foreign) investment can create jobs and be a huge economic boost for Canada, especially during the pandemic. … It’s a win-win for immigrants and Canada.”

However, some immigration consultants and lawyers say they fear proposed changes by Employment and Social Development Canada, the federal department that approves the LMIA, or labour-market impact assessment, will essentially kill the program.

In recent consultations with lawyers and consultants, federal officials said they’re considering changes that would include requiring that a business be bought and in operation for at least one year before a person could apply for a LMIA and that the owner/operator position be advertised to ensure all attempts are made to fill that job with a Canadian first.

That could mean someone like Khan would need to advertise for someone to do his job and only get approval for an owner/operator LMIA — and a work permit — if a Canadian can’t be found.

“Which investor in their right mind will invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a business that they cannot oversee?” said immigration consultant Sharmila Perera, who has experience helping clients in the program.

“Why would a person invest so much money in a business in Canada if they are not allowed to come and work in their own business? They can’t run it from overseas.”

The program has become increasingly popular in recent years. The number of the owner/operator LMIA applications skyrocketed from 228 in 2016 to 505 last year. In 2019, there were 372 applications approved, according to Employment and Social Development Canada.

What makes the owner/operator LMIA attractive is that, in some ways, it offers a loophole in the immigration system.

It lets someone buy a business in this country, then essentially hire himself or herself as a temporary foreign worker. Then, they use that job offer in a bid to become a permanent resident.

Under Canada’s immigration system, applicants are awarded points for attributes such as language proficiency, educational achievements and professional experience.

Typically, work experience gained through self-employment is ineligible for points under the immigration point grid.

Yet someone applying for permanent residence can qualify for as many as the 200 bonus points through employment arranged by a Canadian employer.

Those with jobs under an LMIA qualify. They receive bonus points, ranging between 50 and 200, depending on the level of their positions. Senior managers and CEOs can claim the maximum points.

“To get 200 points, you need to be a senior manager with at least six or more employees, which will cost you ideally at least $250,000 to buy or start a business. Jobs must be created or saved, so it is perfect” as an economic stimulant during the pandemic, Immigration consultant Phil Mooney said.

An applicant’s fate can hinge on the job they’ve created for themselves.

“If the business fails before you get it, you are only a temporary foreign worker, so you have to leave Canada” because one would no longer have a job,” Mooney said. “Once you get your permanent residence, there are no terms and conditions to be met.”

Not everyone is convinced this is how the system is meant to work.

Immigration lawyer Ravi Jain, president of the Canadian Bar Association’s immigration division, said these individuals should be ineligible for the bonus points for permanent residence because they are essentially self-employed.

“The program has been heavily marketed around the world as a pathway for immigration. But people are being misled. I don’t think it is (a clear pathway). That’s a grey area,” Jain said, speaking on behalf of his own law practice.

“There is a tremendous amount of room for discretion (from immigration officials evaluating an application). I think they are responding to that and are essentially looking to kill the program.”

There are also concerns in some quarters that the program might be abused.

Immigration lawyer Colin Singer said he can see how people might abuse it, by buying a business and flipping it back a year later after they obtain the coveted permanent residency in Canada.

But Singer said the program works well for those applicants who do not fit squarely into other immigration programs.

“Every program, no matter what it is, is subject to abuse. Why? Because there are so many people who want to come to Canada and they are willing to do anything,” said Singer. “That being said, there are other ways to control it. You don’t kill the entire program.”

The new rules, in particular the need to advertise the jobs to for a Canadian first, might very well spell the program’s demise, Singer predicted.

“I don’t think people are going to be able to prove that the advertising wasn’t able to capture qualified managers (in Canada) for a gas station or a Starbucks. You are not talking about the highest skills that are needed.”

Employment and Social Development Canada said the owner/operator LMIAs is not a formal stream of the temporary foreign worker program. It would not say when the new changes would take effect.

A department spokesperson said the proposed changes are all part of its ongoing program reviews.

However, it appears the newly proposed, one-year operational requirement has already been used to assess some applications.

Sanya Kalra, 37, along with her husband, Sunny Kalra, bought a franchised pizzeria in Brampton with their own savings but her owner/operator LMIA was refused in October, the same date she received her building permit for the George Street location. She was told she’s only eligible after the shop is opened and in operation for a year.

The couple from India have already paid the bulk of the money but are unable to oversee the project themselves and must count on the help of her brother-in-law in Canada, who has a full-time day job himself in human resources.

“We have invested so much money in it. It’s just so difficult to manage it due to our different time zone here,” said Karla, who stays up in the wee hours to remotely administer and supervise the restaurant opening, now scheduled for mid-December. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Source: This program lets global investors buy a Canadian business — then hire themselves as foreign workers. Proposed changes will kill it, some say

Queen’s launching new program to train immigration and citizenship consultants

Interesting back and forth between the lawyers and academics quoted. Although I am not a great fan of consultants compared to lawyers, given the history of poor and, in some cases, fraudulent representation, the program is professionally designed given the people involved:

On Aug. 1, Queen’s University will launch a graduate diploma in immigration and citizenship law. The program will be the only English-language educational pathway to becoming a regulated immigration consultant.

Queen’s developed the program and won a competitive bid with immigration consulting’s national regulator and will be the sole accredited English provider of the program.

Ravi Jain, national chair of the Canadian Bar Association Immigration Law Section, says the program should not exist, arguing it lends credibility to an industry that has been marred by incompetence and misconduct since its inception.

“By continuing to facilitate immigration consultants to be engaged in the practice of immigration law, it does it does actual Queen’s law JD students a disservice,” says Jain, who is certified by the Law Society of Ontario as a specialist in immigration law and is partner at Green and Spiegel LLP, in Toronto.

“This program is a terrible idea. Graduates will claim that they have ‘gone to law school.’ The public will be even further confused. Most think that they are hiring lawyers when they hire immigration consultants,” says Jain. “Immigration consultants have a horrific history in Canada.”

Queen’s Law Dean Mark Walters says the problems known in the industry is one of the reasons his school launched the program.

“We all appreciate that at present, the profession of immigration consultant is not well regulated, and that there have been abuses in the system and concerns legitimately raised. And that’s, in fact, why we’re involved,” Walters says.

Associate Professor at Queen’s Law and expert in immigration and refugee law Sharry Aiken says the federal government decided long ago that there was a place in the immigration administrative process for consultants.

“It’s a profession that’s here to stay. And the key is to ensure that it’s properly regulated and that the people in that profession are professionals and trained as such,” she says. “It’s a massive system and non-lawyers can perform a really important role to ensuring that vulnerable people get proper advice and assistance as they work their way through elaborate administrative system.”

The program at Queen’s comes after the regulation of immigration consultants has gone through three different stages. In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada case Law Society of British Columbia v. Mangat ruled it was not a breach of the Legal Profession Act for non-lawyer consultants to represent people in immigration hearings in B.C. Since then, the door has been open for the non-lawyer consultants to serve clients looking to relocate to Canada.

The first governing body — the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants — eventually attracted a parliamentary review in 2010 due to lack of policing and professional and ethical standards. The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council followed but problems persisted, and another parliamentary review took place in 2017. The Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration produced a report: “Starting Again: Improving Government Oversight of Immigration Consultants.” The report showed misconduct was still prevalent, with international students, live-in caregivers and temporary foreign workers being the most vulnerable to abuse. The committee’s witnesses repeatedly accused the ICCRC of failing to deal with unauthorized practitioners, known as ghost consultants.

The 2017 report produced the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants Act, which turned the ICCRC into a new self-regulatory College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants — instituting a licensing regime, code of conduct, complaints and discipline committees and putting the board of directors under the guidance of the minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship.

While the argument in favour of including consultants in the immigration system involves the need to increase access to justice, Jain says that the immigration bar is uniquely accessible to the public they serve. Jain calls the access to justice argument “absolutely ridiculous.”

“I would ask the dean and others to point me to evidence that there are problems with respect to immigrants and refugees retaining lawyers,” Jain says. “The average income of an immigration lawyer is about $75,000. People go into it out of humanitarian instinct and there’s lots of pro bono work and low-bono work where there are very low fees. So, there’s no evidence of an access problem. None, whatsoever.”

He adds that the issue raises the question of why society deems immigrants and refugees, who are particularly vulnerable, to not need the help of a trained lawyer.

“Why should immigrants and refugees be told that they don’t need a proper lawyer? It’s only the marginalized and the racialized that are told that, in our society. It’s never the other areas of law. And so, I just find that argument to be highly problematic.”

Aiken says that many other areas of law also use paralegals and consultants play “a very important role in access to justice for vulnerable communities.” She adds that the new iteration of the regulatory body, past forms of which have been “plagued with structural deficits” has made positive changes, including an expanded regulatory authority to discipline members and other new enforcement powers.

Before setting up the Queen’s program, Aiken established a National Advisory Committee, which included members of the immigration bar including past chair of the Canadian Bar Association national section for Citizenship and Immigration Robin Seligman and Lobat Sadrehashemi past president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

Source: Queen’s launching new program to train immigration and citizenship consultants