Jail term, hefty penalty await bogus immigration consultants

By Alex P. Vidal / PNS

SURREY, British Columbia — – Foreign low skilled workers intending to work in Canada should not pay recruitment fees to their employers because it is illegal under the law.

This was emphasized by Certified Canadian Immigration Consultant Shereen Santos Dulay of the Kabayan Immigration and Network Services Ltd. in an exclusive interview recently.

Dulay said the law provides that employers should be the ones to shoulder all the recruitment costs of foreign workers “but there are some applicants who still don’t know this.”

Invoking the guidelines for hiring of foreign workers set by the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Dulay, licensed member of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC), said employers can apply for a Labour Market Opinion (LMO) under the Pilot Project for Occupation Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC)/Service Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC)

GUIDELINES

Hiring employers are expected to abide the following:

Meet at least the minimum recruitment efforts required for NOC C and D occupations; consult with the local union to determine if the position is covered under a collective agreement; cover all recruitment costs related to the hiring of the foreign worker; and sign an employment contract outlining wages, duties, and conditions related to the transportation, accommodation, and health and occupational safety of the foreign worker.

Employers will also pay the transportation costs for the worker to travel from his/her country of permanent residence to the location of work in Canada and for the return to the country of permanent residence and offer wages that are equal or higher than the prevailing wage rate paid to Canadians in the same occupation and region.

The guidelines states that “In an unionized environment, offer the same wage rate as established under the collective bargaining agreement. In cases where benefits are offered to Canadians, extend those same benefits to the temporary foreign worker. In order to address unique circumstances, HRSDC/Service Canada maintains the right to set the prevailing wage rate.”

They must also agree to review and adjust (if necessary) the worker’s wages after 12 months of employment to ensure the worker continues to receive the prevailing wage rate of the occupation and region where he/she is employed; help the worker find suitable, affordable accommodation; provide medical coverage until the worker is eligible for provincial health insurance coverage; and register their workers under the appropriate provincial workers compensation/ workplace safety insurance plans.

‘GHOST’ CONSULTANTS

As CSIC members, Dulay said they are mandated to report the existence of “ghost” immigration consultants who take advantage of the ignorance of some applicants.

“The mandate of CSIC is to really protect the public, not us,” she stressed. “As CSIC members we are bound to abide by its rules and regulations.”

Dulay said “because of lack of proper knowledge, some applicants go to ‘ghost’ consultants who don’t have liabilities.”

She lamented that when some applicants shy away from legitimate consultants to avoid paying lawful fees they are enticed and fooled by “ghost” consultants who charge lower fees.

Dulay lauded the CSIC for its efforts to neutralize unscrupulous consultants. “CSIS has been placing advertisements in newspapers to warn the public,” she pointed out.

Dulay said immigration consultants are prohibited by CSIC from giving guarantee of success and faster processing time to applicants “because it is implying that you have special powers or connections with the CSIC.”

“That’s what the ghost consultants are doing,” she exclaimed.

RETAINER AGREEMENT

Dulay, who is also fellow of the Canadian Migration Institute (CMI) and member of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants (CAPIC), advised applicants “to first read the Retainer Agreement before anything else.”

She said “ghost” consultants are also rampant in countries with big immigration applicants such as China , India and the Philippines .

Legitimate consultants can put up offices or branches, Dulay said, but their “agents” are limited only to secretarial or administrative works and they can not give advices.

She admitted they don’t have standard fees “but only a benchmark where we could go lower or higher.”

Dulay assured fees charged by licensed and legitimate consultants are “reasonable.”

There are “some factors” if documents of some applicants for live-in caregiver are rejected, explained Dulay.

“They may have failed in English test or the visa officer was not satisfied that there is an allotted room (in the employer’s house) for the caregiver,” she said.

For caregiver applicants, the visa officer would ask for the blue print of the employers’ house, Dulay disclosed.

Also, applicants may be rejected if they are medically and criminally inadmissible, she added, or if the visa officer discovered that the annual salary of the employers and their spouses are insufficient.

Dulay said there is also computation of the number of people in the households to ensure that the rights and living condition of applicants are protected.

An application can also be rejected if there is misrepresentation on the part of the applicant, Dulay concluded.

NEW LAW

Meanwhile, Dulay, reacting to reports of the continued proliferation of unscrupulous immigration consultants, said Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney was expected to release new provisions in law that would further improve and enhance the immigration and hiring system in Canada in June 2010.

She was referring to Kenny’s plan to introduce a new law that will make it a criminal offense for anyone to offer immigration services without being a registered consultant.

Immigration reporter Nicholas Keung reported in a Sun article last June 6, that “The Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act”, unveiled in Parliament on June 8, will allow law enforcement authorities to lay criminal charges against the so-called “ghost consultants,” who prey on vulnerable to-be migrants but are off the officials’ radar.

Such individuals could face a $50,000 fine and a two-year jail term upon conviction.

The changes come two years after a Star investigative series that exposed the problem of unscrupulous immigration consultants who have continued to take advantage of the law’s loopholes despite a new regulatory body Ottawa established in 2004 to weed out these operations.

“The new legislation will crack down crooked consultants who are exploiting tens of thousands of people who dream of coming to this country,” one source told the Star. “This has created an entire industry of underground ghost consultants who offer people fraudulent advice and counterfeit documents and never fulfill their promises — this has obviously been a long-standing problem.”

Examples of consultants taking advantage of the system include charging applicants for refugee claims when they’re not real refugees or taking applicants’ money without completing the necessary paperwork.

LEGAL REPRESENTATIVES

Currently, RCMP and Canada Border Services Agency officers can only go after those unauthorized individuals whose names appear in immigration or refugee applications as the legal representatives — but ghost consultants never identify themselves in any official document.

Often, immigrant and refugee applicants have to bear the consequences of such frauds and misrepresentation, seeing their cases unnecessarily rejected and their dreams shattered.

The criminalization of unauthorized consultants was one of the key recommendations put forward by the all-party parliamentary citizenship and immigration standing committee, which conducted a nation-wide consultation in 2008 to revamp the consultants’ regulatory system after the Star investigation.

The Star series found that the consultants’ regulator, the CSIC only has the authority to regulate its 1,500 members but was itself engulfed in and consumed with internal management issues — pushing some frustrated consultants to practise underground. It’s not yet known if the government will seek an overhaul of the regulatory body.

Another source told the Star that the proposed legislation will allow improved information- sharing among enforcement authorities and the regulator “on individuals providing unethical or unprofessional representation or advice.”

These changes will complement the immigration department’s public awareness campaign in the past year to warn immigration and refugee applicants of the use of unauthorized consultants and its improved web-based application tools that make it easier for applicants to file applications on their own.

One of the two sources also said, as part of the overall crackdown strategy, the Canadian government plans to sign bilateral and multinational agreements with other countries to crack down on fraudulent activities of overseas immigration consultants, who are out of Canada ’s reach.

Unpaid third parties, such as family members, friends and not-for-profit community groups, who provide immigration services, would not be affected by the new law.