In Chinese (it was Chinese New Year last week, so feeling a bit cultural today), there is a proverb that goes as such:
小洞不补，大洞吃苦 xiǎo dòng bù bǔ, dà dòng chī kǔ
In essence, if a small hole is not fixed (I guess in this case a small leak), it can lead to a bigger difficulty (like a flood).
For those that work with me, transparency and ethics is at the center of my practice. I have never and will never keep a client in the dark about their immigration matter (good news or bad news) and no form gets submitted without the client actively participating in the process.
However, for many that practice (and in a large part I find common among unlicensed agents abroad), this is not the way immigration works or is advertised to work for their clients. Part of it is the cultural of immigration. Overseas, and for many countries, immigration is akin to applying for a business license or doing an incorporation. You hire someone to get it done and as long as it was done it was successful. Doesn’t matter how it is done.
The exact opposite is true for Canadian immigration. Content you unknowingly or unwilling submit (let’s say in a basic Temporary Resident Visa) can rear it’s ugly head years later in permanent residence matters, post-permanent resident matters, and even citizenship matters. Overseas agents generally don’t bother asking clients to confirm things, and many times the client (who does not speak English themselves) signs with no real understanding as to what is being signed for and what is contained in applications. In egregious cases, client’s sign blank application forms before the content is even prepared.
Furthermore, Use of Representative Forms expressly say it is okay for a family member or individual to help you out as long as they are not getting paid. Ironically, the names that sign almost always do get paid, and to my understanding very little has been done to track or identify them.
By letting someone “take care of it” without any input by you several things could occur:
Misrepresentation, as defined by the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which has application up until an individual is granted Citizenship and even possibly beyond (if revoked). For non-citizens, establishing misrepresentation has occurred does not require there to have been an intent to establish misrepresentation. The fact a consultant or agent misrepresented on your behalf – as long as you sign, and even in many cases when you don’t sign your forms (and sign the Use of Rep) is broad in application and scope. It is detrimental in consequence – five year bar on entry and making applications and currently no room for negotiation as to length. Misrepresentation is often coupled with other exclusion orders (overstay, failure to comply, etc.) which combined can lead to a deportation order, for which return to Canada is subject to the Government approving an Authorization to Return to Canada application.
b) Practitioners who keep clients in the dark – missed refusal letters
Another issue that I find has increasingly come up in my practice is seeing individuals who do not receive timely updates or information requests as a result of what many (non-competent) practitioners do in what I will label “screening.” The process of screening essentially allows them to screen what they provide to their clients. Rather than send them original requests from IRCC, they only send them quick email updates or attached forms rather than the full request. The Client is then absolutely in the dark as to what is going on. Requests are often sent long after they are actually received and at a point where it is too late. In some cases, responses are not provided leading to A16 refusals for not providing requested documentation.
Another process I have seen, that is even more troublesome, is delaying the delivery of refusals. In some cases, I have seen practitioners delay delivery of refusals, falsely giving the applicant the notion that they continue to be on implied status. Unfortunately, not only does this open up the individual to be removed from Canada for working without authorization, but it also eats into the critical 90-day window from a refusal where they could possibly seek restoration of their status.
Once out of status, out of restoration and from a visa-requiring country, the chances of returning to Canada as a temporary resident take a huge hit.
Possible Solution – Secondary Access for All Clients
I believe that there needs to be a way, particularly in this electronic age, where there is more than one individual allowed to access their immigration file. Just because an authorized representative has been appointed, I do not think the client themselves should be completely locked out of their account or of updates. As it currently stands, clients are entirely hamstrung from seeking independent legal advice without access or copies to materials filed.
My recommendation would be for IRCC to provide explicit instructions and access for clients to at the very least view their own materials submitted and actual IRCC correspondence – regardless of the type of application. This would be an expansion of e-CAS as it currently stands.
Short of having them able to act on information requests or take incorrect steps (which I believe Authorized reps should be able to enable as part of their primary account), I think all clients should be able to see what is going on from the eyes of their immigration representative.
This would mirror what is currently done with the Employer portal with primary and secondary users.
I also believe that there needs to be some control over the process of having representative’s create portals on behalf of their clients to submit applications. In so doing, there needs to be some front-end verification to show that the individual client has provided permission for this and is aware that they are responsible (by virtue of their name being on the file) for all the updates that accrue. Practitioners would need to necessary sign some sort of authorization for their client in order to pursue.
The common (and I believe unethical) practice of creating accounts on behalf of unwilling clients to shield the representative’s own involvement and yet to also hide the client’s own access needs to come to an end.
What do you think about my suggestions above? Shoot a comment below!