“Ghost” immigration consultants alive and kicking, only few prosecuted
New laws mean heavier sentences and fines for unscrupulous immigration consultants, but many say it’s still a Wild West out there.
NICHOLAS KEUNG / TORONTO STAR Order this photo
Marsha Rose Marie Tomlin, left, was assisted by licensed immigration consultant Marva Yvonne Kollar, right, in her complaint about an unlicensed consultant.
Three years after Ottawa launched a new regulatory body to police the immigration consultant industry, critics say there are as many illegal “ghost” consultants as ever preying on would-be immigrants.
“It is still a Wild West,” says Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of Toronto’s FCJ Refugee Centre. “The ghosts still operate out there. People still fall victim to them.”
Experts say that despite stiffer new penalties for those who operate without licences or oversight, unscrupulous consultants continue to take advantage of refugee claimants and immigration applicants struggling to navigate Canada’s confusing and ever-changing system.
A few of these ghost consultants, who sometimes counsel clients to commit fraud, have been arrested and charged under the new laws, which provide for up to five years in jail and $100,000 in fines.
Rico-Martinez complains that when complaints are made to the Burlington-based Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), it has no power to police ghost consultants.
Instead, it’s up to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) to investigate.
“When you complain to the Canada Border Services Agency,” Rico-Martinez continues, “they don’t even respond. Little has changed. Nobody really does anything about these ghost consultants. That’s why they are still operating.”
While the immigration department and ICCRC do caution the public against the use of unauthorized consultants on their websites, Rico-Martinez says, it’s still a “buyer beware” scenario.
Rico-Martinez served as a community member on the board of the old consultants’ regulator, which was probed in the Star’s 2007 investigative series Lost in Migration. The federal government replaced it in June 2011 with the ICCRC. Migrants’ advocates, lawyers and regulated consultants have praised the new body for its better governance and transparency of the sector.
However, everyone — including the council’s own head — concedes it has limitations when it comes to going after ghost consultants.
“We have no authority to take any action against non-members,” says ICCRC chief executive officer and president Bob Brack, who spent three decades working for Citizenship and Immigration, including stints at seven visa posts. “All we can do is accept the complaints and pass them on to CBSA. We do everything we can, but we are a small organization of 25 staff.”
Citizenship and Immigration Canada said in a statement that the department takes all immigration fraud very seriously and has cracked down on crooked consultants by making it an offence for anyone other than an accredited immigration representative to offer immigration services at a fee.