Conservatives Announce Plans For New Immigration Regulator

Conservatives announce plans for new immigration regulator

Minister unveils legislation aimed at cleaning up immigration consulting while professional body seeks to step into new role

Joe Friesen Demographics Reporter
Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published on Tuesday, Jun. 08, 2010 9:37PM EDT
Last updated on Wednesday, Jun. 09, 2010 12:39AM EDT

The Conservative government is taking greater control of the immigration business, announcing plans to choose a new regulator for immigration consultants Tuesday along with long-promised legislation to crack down on unethical 'ghost consultants.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said he will take immediate steps to address a lack of public confidence in the regulation of immigration consultants by launching a public process to select a new regulator. The new regulator will be subject to greater government oversight, will be obliged to share information with government and will be accountable for establishing effective disciplinary procedures, Mr. Kenney said.

This marks a significant shift from the previous system of self-regulation of the immigration consulting industry. The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC), a professional body of roughly 1,600 members, has been independent of government since its creation by the Liberals in 2004. Often criticized by members unhappy with its leadership, CSIC is now on the verge of being sidelined, although the board chair said CSIC plans to apply for its old job under the public selection process.

The announcement came as Mr. Kenney unveiled the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act, which would make it a crime for a person who is not a lawyer, notary or member of a recognized immigration consultants body to accept a fee for providing immigration advice. The new provisions will close a loophole that had been exploited by unethical immigration consultants, Mr. Kenney said. Unethical consultants, known as ghosts because their names dont appear on the documents their clients submit, are often accused of charging high fees for advice that leads prospective immigrants to submit fraudulent applications.

The bill would make it a crime for unauthorized individuals to provide immigration advice for a fee and this criminal offence has teeth. It will impose serious penalties: up to two years in jail or a $50,000 fine or both, Mr. Kenney told reporters in Ottawa. He added that he also intends to pressure foreign governments to pursue unscrupulous consultants working within their borders who counsel prospective immigrants to Canada to submit fraudulent applications. His moves were well-received by NDP MP Olivia Chow, a long-time campaigner on this issue. Ms. Chow told the Canadian Press she wants to ensure the proposed reforms will give police and border agencies a mandate to enforce the new laws.

Nigel Thomson, chair of CSIC, said he welcomes the legislative changes announced by Mr. Kenney. CSIC has been calling for tougher regulations to go after unethical immigration consultants for years, he said, describing this package as both dynamic and courageous.

Rather than seeing the governments move as the beginning of the end for CSIC, he said he was confident it could win the upcoming competition for the regulators job.

The minister has promised an open and transparent process to appoint a national regulator. CSIC is going to participate in that process. We believe that if we get a close look at what has transpired at CSIC over the last four years well be seen to be a mature organization, a professional regulator that is achieving the goal of consumer protection, Mr. Thomson said.

Mr. Kenney said in tackling reform of the regulator he was following the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Immigration. He said complaints raised during three weeks of hearings on CSIC in 2008 led him to believe that the crisis of confidence in CSIC posed a significant threat to the immigration system.

CSIC has been plagued by controversy from the outset. Several CSIC board members resigned early on, with one complaining in 2006 that fellow board members were delusional to pay themselves so handsomely. In 2008 the parliamentary committee was told that CSICs fees were too high, that the board was unaccountable to the membership and that those who criticized the organization were threatened with disciplinary action.

Last year CSIC paid its board of directors more than $500,000 in fees. By comparison, benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada, the equivalent regulatory body for lawyers, receive no pay for their first 26 days of work, and a daily fee beyond that. CSICs budget is drawn almost entirely from annual fees paid by members of the society. Those fees, more than $3,000 a year, are considerably higher than those paid by lawyers and doctors to their professional regulatory bodies, once insurance is excluded.

CSICs defenders say the high fees are necessary to fund an organization with a small membership base. Critics say CSICs high fees encourage consultants to work underground, as ghost consultants, rather than join the regulated body. CSIC itself has said it knows of more than 1,900 ghost consultants operating in Canada, which would outnumber its own membership.