Immigration Lawyers. Who needs them?

Nobody it seems, according to  Canadian Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Jason Kenney speaking in the Philippines last month to assess the situation about unscrupulous Immigration Consultants.

In a press conference, Kenney said he is aware that people representing themselves as immigration consultants had been advertising and claiming they can help Filipinos enter Canada.

“But I want Filipinos and Filipinas to know that they do not need to use the services of an immigration representative consultant, or lawyer,” Kenney said in a statement read in the September 18 press briefing. Kenney said the Canadian government gives “equal consideration to all immigration applications, regardless of whether they use the services of consultants, agents, recruiting agencies, or representatives.”

Nobody has any inside track on immigration to Canada, he emphasized.

Kenny’s remarks are supported statements on the Canadian government website which reads:

“You do not need to hire an immigration representative. It is up to you. Your application will not be given special attention or guaranteed approval if you use a representative”

Well, how should this be interpreted?

Can you imagine the government promoting self service in other areas of law such as real estate, family law or contracts? You have a real estate closing at the end of the month. Who needs a lawyer to conduct a title search or review your Agreement of Purchase and Sale? You are getting a divorce. Try negotiating with your spouse about division of assets without legal counsel by your side.

Ok, now you are moving to a foreign country, with foreign laws, language and institutions. According to the Canadian government, no sweat: just sent in your application and fee and voila, welcome to Canada!

While it is true that hiring a representative for immigration matters does not mean your case will be approved; that your application will be given special treatment, such truths are a far cry, I would submit,  from stating that “You do not need to hire an immigration representative” .

I would ask the Minsiter to make such claims to the thousands of well-meaning and well-qualified, unrepresented Canadian immigration applicants whose cases have been unjustly  refused,  side tracked or simply lost in the system. The government has enacted very strict legistation punishing applicants, lawyers and consultants for engaging in misrepresentation.

Curious as to why on the home page of the CIC website such a blatant misstatement of facts appears concerning the role of legal representatives present for all to see and sadly to rely upon. Taken in the context it is written, people  would think that hiring an immigration lawyer or consult is a complete waste of time and money. After all, their cases will be treated fairly by the government and you can and should do it yourself.

I have searched for such blatant disregard for the role lawyers in other jurisdictions and found none so brazen as what appears here in  Canada. While most people, immigration lawyers included, support government initiatives to crack down on fraud and misconduct by representatives,  suggesting to prospective immigration applicants that the government will take care of your interests and there is no need to hire a representative is misleading and irresponsible.

Let’s be clear: The government’s mandate is not to protect your interests but to ensure that its immigration targets, quotas, policies are met. You, as an individual applicant, are but a “number” among a sea of numbers and don’t be expected to be treated like anything other than a number. Your interests in securing an immigration benefit are not necessarily in line with the government’s “big picture”.

So in applying for immigration on your own, you place yourself at the mercy of the system–a system designed to move hundreds of thousands of files though a bureaucratic maze. And the system is far from perfect and therefore far from fair. Yes, it is designed to treat all cases equally with no favoritism.  However, ask yourself: What kind of equal treatment should you expect?

In practicing immigration law for over a decade I think I am qualified answer that: sometimes pretty good; sometimes not so good; sometimes horrible.  So what role do immigration lawyer’s play? If they are good, your case will managed by a professional who knows the system and can make sure your case doesn’t fall between the cracks. Moving to a new country is a major life decision. Leaving it in the hands of a government run system without a representative is like floating down a river without a paddle.

Who needs an immigration lawyer? Until we live in a perfect world, I would submit: You do.

Michael Niren

About Michael Niren

Michael is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. He is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Canadian Bar Association’s Citizenship and Immigration Section and the Associate Member of the American Bar Association. Read more

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