Friday, April 30, 2010

Time to exorcise ghost immigration consultants

Many immigrants, leaving less than ideal circumstances in their own countries, choose to come to Canada in search of a better life. It's sad, then, that the first experience many of these vulnerable people have in Canada is one of exploitation.

The Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants drew attention to this problem last week, with the announcement of a $1-million advertising campaign. The campaign, which features the image of a shark attacking a seal, draws attention to the fact the unscrupulous, unaccredited immigration consultants -- known as "ghost" consultants -- treat prospective immigrants as prey. The ads will appear in a number of languages and will include a toll-free line to help immigrants find an accredited consultant.

The society, which was created in 2004, accredits and educates consultants, and by law, members are only allowed to take money in exchange for help in the immigration process. The problem, however, is that consultants need not be members of the society, and those who aren't frequently fleece prospective immigrants out of thousands of dollars.

For example, a Surrey woman recently claimed more than $50,000 had been illegally transferred from an account she had set up on the advice of Fereydoun Hadad, a West Vancouver immigration consultant. Hadad pleaded guilty in January to charges of fraud and uttering a forged document, and he will be sentenced in March.

And just last week it was revealed that the RCMP is investigating a case in which 300 people claimed to be living at the same address, This is not a unique situation, as shady agents often attempt to get around residency requirements by advising prospective immigrants to falsely claim they've been living in Canada.

In fact, these few examples don't convey the likely scope of this problem. The society notes that there are more ghost agents than there are accredited ones: While there are a total of 1,655 registered members, the society has identified some 1,920 ghost agents.

Not all of these ghosts are involved in illegal activities, but their sheer volume, and the fact that they operate in an entirely unregulated atmosphere, virtually guarantees that unscrupulous agents can quietly bilk people out of their life savings -- and put Canada's national security in jeopardy.

And this could become an even bigger problem, given that many Haitians are attempting to immigrate to Canada, particularly Quebec, where there are just 150 registered consultants.

Clearly, this is an area in need of significant reform.

The society was created in an effort to solve some problems associated with the immigration system, but given that membership in the society is entirely voluntary, the problems remain.

The society is calling on the federal government to crack down on ghost agents, something that has been promised for more than a year.

In response to the recent controversy, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said regulatory reforms will be announced this year.

It's about time to exorcise these ghosts. Our international reputation, and our national security, depend on it.
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