Doing-it-Yourself vs. Hiring a Canadian Immigration Lawyer

By Andrew Rogerson LLB (Hons) TEP

The process of temporarily or permanently immigrating to Canada can be quite complicated and expensive for those seeking to do so. Although Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC”) clearly notes on their website that foreign nationals are not required to hire immigration representatives to prepare their immigration forms, this does not mean that being unrepresented is the right option for you. Given the complexity of immigration laws and the Canadian immigration landscape, as well as the importance behind each immigration case, hiring an immigration lawyer to guide you through the process is advisable.

Doing it Alone

The obvious benefit to completing and submitting your immigration forms to CIC, without the assistance of a paid immigration representative, is the decreased cost. However, while it may be financially appealing to go it on your own initially, overseeing your immigration file by yourself may pose certain risks that you may not be willing to take on.

You will save what may seem to be a lot of money in deciding not to pay for an immigration representative, but you stand to lose so much more in the long run if your immigration forms are not completed correctly. A simple mistake on your immigration forms could lead to the rejection of your application, loss of status in Canada and even a removal order being issued against you. In these situations, many people stand to lose not only a positive decision on their immigration application, but also years of expended energy and money. On top of the lost fees, you may be forced to pay the expense of an immigration representative anyway if your application is eventually rejected.

Not All Immigration Representatives are Created Equal

For those who are not familiar with the Canadian immigration landscape, a paid immigration representative can assist you in navigating through Canada’s sometimes complex immigration process. According to CIC, the only representatives who may charge a fee to represent or advise you on immigration and refugee matters with the Government of Canada are:

  • Lawyers who are members in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society
  • Immigration consultants who are members in good standing of the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, and
  • notaries who are members in good standing of the Chambre des notaires du Québec.

However, it is important to remember that not all immigration representatives will provide you with the same level of expertise, security, and service. While it would appear that immigration consultants and immigration lawyers provide the same services this is not the case.

Immigration Consultants vs. Immigration Lawyers

Although immigration consultants are regulated by the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, it has become clear over recent years that that regulatory body has failed to accomplish its mandated task of “regulation”. There have been numerous cases of reported malpractice on the part of immigration consultants over the years in Canada. As noted in the National Post, “[i]mmigration consultancy is a notoriously sleaze-filled profession”# and many consultants have reportedly preyed on the desperation of would-be immigrants by making impossible promises of speeding up the processing of their immigration applications, providing little to no immigration expertise and taking money for fees without performing any services whatsoever. In response, on June 8, 2010 the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism introduced Bill C-35 in the House of Commons to crack down on crooked immigration consultants. As of December 7, 2010, this proposed legislation had already received final approval in the House of Commons and is currently on its way to receiving Senate approval. The Canadian government’s response to the misconduct of consultants, and the swiftness of that response, substantiates the fact that putting ones trust in an immigration consultant can prove to be even more risky than preparing immigration forms independently as there is no effective regulatory system currently in place to separate bad consultants from the good ones.

In contrast, hiring an immigration lawyer guarantees that not only a very effective regulatory body is in place to facilitate choosing a good lawyer for your immigration needs but it also ensures that you are hiring someone who has been educated in, and has an understanding of, the laws surrounding Canadian immigration.

An immigration lawyer can also keep you informed of any changes in Canadian immigration laws and procedures and can represent you at all levels of the immigration process. In particular, only a lawyer is properly licensed to represent you before the Federal Court should you need to appeal any decisions made by CIC on your file.

In addition, immigration lawyers must adhere to the ethical and professional standards of the Canadian provincial or territorial law society that governs the area in which they practice law. These law societies, which require immigration lawyers to meet minimum levels of professionalism and to attend continuing professional development seminars, ensure that clients are provided with high quality services.

The moral of the story is that you should always consult with a qualified immigration lawyer prior to making significant immigration decisions.