‘Ghost Agents’ Slip Through Immigration Loophole

'Ghost agents' slip through immigration loophole

Federal government promises crackdown on unlicensed immigration consultants, who often collect fees from clients based on promises they cannot keep

Patrick Brethour
Surrey, B.C. From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, May. 24, 2010 9:59PM EDT
Last updated on Tuesday, May. 25, 2010 7:05AM EDT

As Balvir Dhaliwal remembers it, the sales pitch on local radio was irresistible, coming just as he was trying to figure out how to bring three people from India to work in his construction business in Surrey.

The radio ad made it seem so easy, virtually a sure thing: Pay a few thousand dollars, wait a few months, and those needed workers could be brought to Canada.

Mr. Dhaliwal paid $9,600 to an immigration consultant in British Columbias[] Lower Mainland in May, 2008. He filled in the paperwork and then waited for two years.

Hes given up waiting. The approvals for those workers never materialized, Mr. Dhaliwal said, and the consultant he paid not only refused to give him a promised refund, but said he owed more money.

Mr. Dhaliwal says he now realizes that he fell prey to unrealistic promises and his own wishful thinking, willfully believing that the consultant could speed his application through Canadas immigration system. Before, I thought they might know more than me about immigration law, and immigration connections, the 60-year-old said.

His story is one of hundreds in British Columbia, says Aditya Mohan, who organized a weekend protest against what he called over-aggressive promises made by immigration consultants. Mr. Mohan says millions of dollars in fees have been lost, often on applications that stood no chance.

Alykhan Velshi, communications director for federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, says even more complaints come from Toronto and Montreal.

The federal government[] will introduce legislation to crack down on crooked consultants by the end of the parliamentary session next month, Mr. Velshi said, adding that he believes opposition parties will back the measures.

He would not comment on the specifics, but said the government is taking aim at several issues, including barriers to sharing information on problematic consultants, the lack of specific sanctions, and the regulatory loophole that has led to an increase in unlicensed consultants, nicknamed ghost agents.

Under the six-year-old system, an immigration consultant must be accredited with the federal regulator the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants to present an application, including appearing before an immigration tribunal. But if consultants limit their tasks to filling out paperwork and providing advice, no credentials are required and CSIC has no jurisdiction over them.

That leaves ghost agents free to make promises that licensed consultants cannot make, said Phil Mooney, past president of CSIC.

They make false promises about everything, said Mr. Mooney, an immigration consultant in Burlington, Ont. The RCMP could pursue fraudsters, but that rarely happens, he said.

Two years ago, the House of Commons standing committee on immigration and citizenship recommended replacing CSIC with a regulator similar in structure to a provincial law society with added powers, including authority over currently unlicensed consultants.

CSIC chair Nigel Thomson said he strongly agrees with any move to bring ghost agents under regulatory scrutiny, particularly since his organization estimates that ghosts account for more than half of all immigration consultants in Canada.

But he said the immigration committee didnt fully understand his organizations limited mandate, and that instead of being wound down, it should be granted investigative authority to pursue ghost agents, among others. Mr. Thomson said the government has not consulted CSIC.