By Alex P. Vidal / PNS
VANCOUVER, British Columbia –A former volunteer in the coastal fisheries resource management in the Bureau of Fisheries and Acquatic Resources (BFAR) in Iloilo and the “Bantay Dagat” in the municipal agriculturist office in Romblon in the Philippines, is now one of British Columbia’s latest full-fledged and youngest licensed immigration consultants.
Cristie Lane Sotana, whose parents are originally from Alta Tierra Village, Jaro, Iloilo City, passed the licensure examination conducted by the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC) in October this year.
At 24, she is now a certified Canada immigration consultant aside from her degree in Bachelor of Science on Natural Resources Conservation major in Global Perspectives she obtained from the University of British Columbia, here.
Many people were reportedly surprised when she passed the CSIC examination but Sotana said it was her exposure with their clients from different cultures that helped her deal with difficult questions in the examination.
“Not all answers were found in the books,” she explained. “Most of the questions were situational or understanding what you have learned from experience to be able to come up with your own solutions.”
Sotana, who has been working as administrative officer of the Surrey-based BC Happy Homes Immigration Service owned by her parents – Natie and Gerchris — since 2003, has been a regular visitor in the Philippines where she had chosen to do volunteer works in summer of 2007.
Bantay Dagat is the term coined to describe the practice of sea patrol by volunteers. The strategy originated in Cebu in the 1970s, and was conceptualized when illegal fishing and over exploitation of marine resources were so rampant in the area causing an alarming decrease in the community’s fish catch.
Sotana’s stint in the Philippines exposed her to repugnance of oil spill in Guimaras where she participated in the rehabilitation projects as volunteer.
“I wanted to help my countrymen and I chose Iloilo (to do my volunteer works),” sighed Sotana, who also volunteered for the Southeast Asian Business Council where they recently raised funds for victims of typhoon “Ondoy” in the Philippines through the Canada Red Cross.
She also volunteered in “Pista ng Bayan” for Indepence Day here this year and the Taste of Asia “Asian Heroes Gala” in Richmond, B.C where nominees for national heroes—those who help the communities– are recognized and presented.
Her exposure to different cultures has served as her inspiration to take up immigration as a career, especially the idea of helping others, Sotana stressed.
In immigration consultancy, Sotana said, she became open-minded and “has learned a lot by getting to learn different cultures, travelling, meeting different people, and hearing stories about life of other people. “
“My travels to the Philippines, together with my mother, gave me opportunity to compare Canada and the Philippines,” he pointed out. “I saw how people worked and many of them are not properly compensated.”
Sotana believed that if Filipinos with skills were given opportunity to migrate in Canada, their lives would improve.
She extolled the Filipinos for being “always happy despite their hardships.” Filipinos, she said, “always experienced disasters, economic and political adversities beyond their control which they can’t change on their own.”
In Canada, Filipinos, she said, don’t worry about these problems. Sotana said there are so many talented and educated Filipinos now living in Canada “and they have lots of opportunities; jobs are always available here.”
“We help everybody. Our doors are open to all (nationalities),” Sotana said. Most of their clients, she said, are Filipinos. There are also clients from Korea, Japan, and Middle East.
“The thought of helping people (to come and live in Canada) is very inspiring,” Sotana added. “My mother is my number one inspiration because she has been in the business since 1992.”
Sotana said she is planning to study law “in order to broaden my knowledge of the field and offer more services to the people.”
Three to five years from now, armed with credentials, she is optimistic that their business will grow and expand as they are also helping educate their “never-ending” clients that continue to grow and extend from first to second and third generation of family members who apply for immigrant status.
“Our secret of success is honesty, being straightforward, and transparency,” said Sotana, eldest of six children, four of whom—Jessica, 16; Nicholas, 11; Meranda, 10; and Austina, 7, are adopted.
Her other sister, Gerna, 22, is communications program student at the Simon Fraser University.
She said, “We don’t measure our success with other people.”
Sotana described her mother, who has been “crawling” in running the business since 1992, as “trustworthy, straightforward, but very open-minded and accommodating.”
“She started the business on her own—she can relate to the people since she has been there before,” she added.
The mother Sotana, the daughter said, has been very determined as “she started from the ground to up and is very family oriented.”
Since her mother put up the business, many families separated for a long time, have been reunited in Canada, she said.
For her part, Natie said she was glad that her daughter is now a full-fledged licensed immigration consultant “as she could look after the business if I am not around, vice versa.”
Part of their obligations, Natie said, is to give their clients updates and allow clients to meet them on appointments. “People would come to us crying after having been promised working visas by consultants who don’t have proper credentials,” the mother said.
It was only after 2002, Natie disclosed, that immigration consultants were required to get a license in order to put a stop in the nefarious activities of unscrupulous consultants who preyed on innocent applicants and promising them the impossible.
“We don’t give promises on time and visa,” Natie explained. “Immigration officers have the final say on this. We listen to the frustrations of our clients, we let them talk and we also do our talking after we hear them.”
“Our motto is–our clients’ success in Canada is our reward,” Natie concluded.