A worried client recently asked for our advice about how to get their money back from a previous immigration representative who had left them in the lurch after giving them false and unethical advice about how to come to Canada. They had reached out to a representative who looked good online. At first, everything seemed wonderful. The representative appeared knowledgeable and confident. They were positive and offered a seemingly easy immigration strategy. Our client paid them a significant sum of money upon signing a non-refundable contract.
Not long after that initial phone call, our client started to more carefully consider the advice they were given. They began to do some research of their own and talk to other people who had similar experiences. Something started to seem amiss about the advice they had been given. They emailed the representative and asked more probing questions. They got no answers. They started calling the office and leaving messages with the receptionist. No one called them back. Stranded, they somehow found our number and called. We gave them comprehensive advice and walked them through the process, outlining all the possible risks. Eventually, we represented them as they successfully applied for Permanent Residence in Canada. Now they are looking back at that initial experience and realizing they are victims of fraud. They are upset, and they feel used, but also, they fear that any action at this point in time could cost them their status.
This is unfortunately a common scenario. Immigrants are notoriously vulnerable and easy victims. An anonymous phone call to IRCC or a malicious poison pen letter (typically an anonymous message sent to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to accuse a person of having broken immigration rules) could land them in serious trouble. Repercussions of this could be costly, sometimes even end in removal from Canada.
We unfortunately believe that our client is right to fear consequences should they try to seek justice against immigration fraudsters. And even if they have the courage to pursue the matter, where do they turn? Lawyers are regulated by Provincial licensing bodies, such as the Law Society of Ontario. But an immigration representative does not need to be a lawyer and in many cases concerning first line applications, they are unregulated representatives, random community members who happen to speak your language, or acquaintances. Not all of these people are intent on fraud, of course, but the problem is that those that are, often can cause siginficant damage with no consequences to themselves.
Rare are the very public investigations of prominent immigration fraudsters such as Xun (Sunny) Wang, who made millions by falsifying documents on behalf of unsuspecting clients who either never made it to this country, or are now facing deportation due to his actions. Or Artem Djukic who charged tens of thousands of dollars per application, promising his clients status in the country, then simply not doing any of the work. The sad fact is that the actions of these people only came to light because they got so exceptionally greedy, that police had to take action. Most of them continue to fly under the radar.
Even when there is action, however, it is too often too late for people who have fallen victims to these predators. IRCC rightfully does not care that someone else told you to lie or put wrong information, or in many cases, did this without your knowledge. You signed the form, you approved the document. It is your misrepresentation and inadmissibility now, irrespective of the assurances that your representative might have made to the contrary. Your chance at your Canadian future may be blown completely. IRCC’s idea of “immigration fraud”, as evident in their communication, is aimed at stopping individuals from misrepresenting. The department is not tasked with regulation over shady and dishonest representatives. As far as they are concerned, you are on your own.
Here is what to look for when you are contemplating retaining someone’s services to help you immigrate to Canada. First of all, are they making unrealistic promises? An example of this would be: they are offering you status, arranged employment, and permanent residence, all but guaranteed. This should be a red flag. An immigration representative has no business arranging employment. When this is being offered to you, ask yourself what the nature of the relationship between the immigration service provider and the potential employer would be? This is typically a scam. They are offering to solve all your problems for a very high fee, while likely falsifying your documents. If this flies past an officer, great, you had incredible luck. If it does not, you are the person IRCC will be punishing, not the representative. In worst case scenarios, hopeful candidates arrive on this promise only to find themselves in indentured servitude. Now that you are here, there is little you can do to get out of that situation, given you are the person who has misrepresented yourself, and your abusers know that you don’t want IRCC to find out.
Another, less sinister, though nonetheless potentially damaging scam is the representative who is offering very cheap services. Of course, there are new lawyers, consultants and paralegals, who are establishing a practice, and they offer lower fees while they gain experience and build their business. They do not fall under what we are discussing here. You can usually identify them by asking some pointed questions about how long they have been practicing. In their case, you will likely get a bargain service, albeit from a less experienced practitioner. What you should be watching out for, however, are representatives who sound confident, present themselves as very experienced, appear to be quite knowledgeable, but offer you cheaper fees than average. Here is what is likely happening in this case: you are being batch processed. Your information is being plugged into a template and very little time and oversight is devoted to your application. Practitioners have operation costs, payroll, licensing fees, etc. These need to be covered. They will either be covered by commensurate fees, or by volume. There is no in between. When you talk to a representative who is offering service for much less than their competition, do your research, ask questions, and find out why that is. Again, the stakes are high for you, and minimal for the person offering you the service. In a situation where consequences for fraudulent behavior are minimal, consequences for incompetent or bad work are almost nonexistent.
Legal fees can appear to be high, when you only consider the face value of the amount, but do consider what you are paying for when you hire a licensed immigration lawyer. You are paying for our knowledge and experience, the years we have spent learning and honing our craft and skills, and our diligent efforts to stay on top of the law, the rules and the immigration policies which are constantly changing. You are paying for a professional who is bound by the rules of ethical behavior and professional conduct, and regulated accordingly. If we do something unethical, you may get a rejection, but we could lose our license to practice our profession. Simply put, we have a strong incentive to do the best job we can on your application. This is, among other reasons, why we sometimes cost more than other immigration representatives. It is an investment in your future, not a mere transaction. It should not be cheap.
If you have been a victim of fraudulent, unethical, or irresponsible representation, do not give up. An immigration lawyer can potentially be of assistance. If you are looking for representation in the area of immigration law, be careful, do your research, and understand that you are always better off retaining licensed and experienced professionals.