I'm accompanied by Brenna MacNeil, director of social policy and programs for the immigration branch at CIC, as well as by colleagues from the CBSA, the CRA, the IRB, and the RCMP.
We would like to thank the committee for inviting us to speak to you today on the issue of immigration representatives.
I will have some brief opening remarks after which we will be pleased to answer your questions.
First I will outline the issue and the challenge.
For some prospective immigrants, the immigration process may seem complex and challenging. It is understandable that this creates a demand for people to act as intermediaries for potential immigrants, foreign students, and temporary foreign workers. Some of these people provide a legitimate service. However, as committee members have heard in recent weeks during hearings across Canada, misconduct by some intermediaries, both inside and outside of Canada, continues to harm individuals who want to come to Canada.
As you know, misconduct by individual consultants has been a long-standing problem, which the government addressed through regulatory amendments implemented in 2004. The amended regulations restrict the provision of immigration advice for a fee to specific groups of qualified professionals who are members of the Canadian Bar Association, Chambre des notaires du Québec, or Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants.
Despite this initiative, concerns remain. This is an extremely complex issue. Many intermediaries work in other countries, with the result that they are generally beyond the reach of Canadian authorities. Others may be ghost consultants--that is, they provide services for a fee but their names and interventions are not disclosed by applicants. Or they may be in Canada, possibly as members of one of the professional bodies I've just mentioned. There are also recruiters, who are often hired by employers to find workers to fill skill shortages under the growing temporary foreign worker program, and education agents, who are hired by Canadian education institutions to promote those institutions abroad to attract foreign students.
This does not mean that the government questions the reputation of all such intermediaries. On the contrary, there are many ethical and qualified people who provide a valuable service to potential immigrants, foreign students, and temporary foreign workers. We all recognize that there are, however, unscrupulous individuals in Canada and overseas who take advantage of prospective newcomers, and therefore further intervention is required.
What are the actions that are needed?
We feel that a key way to fight this kind of activity is through education. Canada must work to ensure that all potential immigrants understand that they are not required to use the services of an immigration representative to come to Canada. Potential immigrants should also understand how to minimize risks when hiring representatives. And they need to understand the consequences if they provide false or misleading information or documents with their application.
Such education is particularly important given the complexities of the immigration environment. If prospective immigrants don't report the activities of ghost consultants to federal bodies such as CIC, CBSA, or the RCMP, options to enforce our laws are limited. And if applicants who use ghost consultants benefit from doing so, they are unlikely to tell us about it.
More generally, the activities of many unscrupulous agents overseas may not, in fact, contravene local laws in other countries. So even if these activities are not acceptable in Canada, enforcement in activities may be limited should local authorities not be willing to cooperate with investigations or prosecutions.
When CIC does receive complaints from applicants or other parties, we take them very seriously. Those who provide false or misleading information or who encourage the use of fraudulent documents contravene not only the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, but in some cases also the Criminal Code. Under IRPA, for example, it is an offence to counsel misrepresentation. It is also an offence to knowingly communicate false or misleading information in order to induce immigration to Canada. A conviction for either of these offences may result in a fine of $100,000, five years' imprisonment, or both.
To investigate complaints about representatives, CIC works with CBSA, which was given responsibility for criminal offences under IRPA in 2006. However, while we are seeing increasingly positive outcomes in prosecutions, there are limits to what can be accomplished if misconduct is not brought to our attention.
That is why we need to make sure that potential applicants know how and where to obtain accurate and reliable information about our immigration processes. And it is why Citizenship and Immigration Canada is undertaking several initiatives to better inform prospective applicants about hiring intermediaries both in Canada and abroad.
We are updating the CIC website with stronger and more direct messaging regarding the use of immigration representatives, immigration processes, and the consequences of misrepresentation and fraud. We are translating this information into multiple languages and will be using it as the basis for information posters to be placed in Canadian missions around the world and with local organizations in Canada.
Finally, to counter extreme situations of fraud, the minister may issue a public statement and have it posted on the CIC website. An example of this was our special information campaign in 2007 targeted at the misinformation provided to Mexicans and Haitians in Florida. These people had been told that a special Canadian program would allow them to immigrate to Canada, and this led to a significant increase of Mexican and Haitian refugee claims at the Canadian border. CIC posted multilingual warnings on our website, advising that there were no special programs to fast-track applications or to guarantee refugee status. This information was provided to U.S., Haitian, and Mexican officials. The Government of Canada published notices in local newspapers and radio stations, and Canada's consulate general in Miami was involved in correcting misinformation at the local level.
Mr. Chairman, I also would like to note that the Government of Canada is not alone in working to address concerns about immigration representatives. Provincial and territorial governments also have a responsibility to ensure intermediaries comply with provincial and territorial regulations and some of these governments are looking at ways to regulate recruiters who charge fees to find employment for immigrant workers.
Manitoba, for example, recently proposed a new Worker Recruitment and Protection Act to substantially strengthen the protection of foreign workers from unscrupulous recruiters. The laws of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba already prohibit agents and recruiters from charging workers any fee for their services. And the Alberta government has recently set up two special advisory offices to provide one-stop access to information and services for temporary foreign workers.
Mr. Chair, before closing, I will provide the committee with some information about the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants, CSIC. Prior to the creation of CSIC, no requirements or standards were in place for consultants who were assisting clients in immigration matters and charging a fee. Vulnerable clients were not assured of receiving the proper services from qualified professionals. Therefore, in 2003, CSIC was incorporated to ensure that individuals wishing to hire an immigration consultant would have access to advice and services from qualified and ethical consultants.
CSIC is an independent, self-regulating body that operates at arm's length from CIC. Our relationship with CSIC is comparable to our relationship with the law societies and the Chambre des notaires du Québec. CSIC also has its own complaints and discipline process, as do the law societies and the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
Mr. Chair, we will continue to support CBSA in their investigations and to work with the provinces to find ways to tackle this issue. We are also focusing on educating our clients in Canada and through our missions abroad. We are embarking on a new campaign to provide accurate information in multiple languages to individuals who may be considering hiring an immigration representative. We feel that this is the most effective way to help individuals both inside and outside Canada make informed choices about how they will approach coming to this country.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I would now like to ask my colleagues from partner agencies to provide their perspectives on this issue.