I have often been asked why it is necessary to hire a representative to help in immigration matters. Often this question gets asked because my potential client is trying to decide why they should be hiring me and what I bring to the table. They also want to know why me and not a lawyer.
These questions are both easy and difficult. Broken down into components, we can say the client is trying to decide if he needs me at all. And if he decides he needs help, is it better to get a lawyer.
These are fairly subjective questions. Admittedly, my answer will likely sound a bit biased, and perhaps it is, but I truly believe that if I think I can take on your case, then I’m the best person for the job. In almost all cases, I’ve later been told by the client that they were happy to have retained me as the details for putting together the application simply became too stressful. I understand this. I have recently been working on upgrading my website, and while I have some considerable experience in website design, my experience is pretty ancient by technical standards. I even went so far as to take an online web design course to brush up on my skills, but in the end, I found it was just too much for me, and I sought professional help.
The same concept applies to submitting an immigration application. It isn’t simply filling out forms. Sometimes you might squeak by in doing it yourself and gathering your information. You might even do a relatively decent job of doing a submission letter. But most representatives understand that this is a huge impact to the client’s life and getting it wrong can have dire consequences. Representatives know the questions to ask to try and be sure all relevant information is divulged and accounted for when making a submission. A client may not think something is important enough to mention, yet when it comes up (and it often does), the client is left dumbfounded that the officer even knew about the item that the client didn’t think important, but has now rendered him inadmissible due to misrepresentation.
In short, we are the experts. Some of us are more expert than others, but most of us truly want to be helpful to our clientele, and do the right thing.
RCICs (Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants) are legally allowed to practice most aspects of immigration law. We are required to undergo a diploma program in addition to either a degree or significant field experience, we have to write an incredibly difficult exam (I’m excellent at academics and exam writing and I was not confident I had passed this one), we need to pass an English language exam at a high Academic level, even if our first language is English, and if we want to practice in Quebec, we also need to pass a French language exam. We then must be regulated with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) and hold Errors and Omissions Insurance. Every year we are also required to take a minimum of sixteen hours of approved immigration related courses. Most of us will take far more credit hours than this minimum.
Lawyers, once authorized by their respective Bar association, are able to practice any type of law. There are few immigration related courses for prospective lawyers, and while they are also required to undergo training programs every year, they can take courses in any field of law they choose. That said, most good immigration lawyers make an effort to undertake learning activities in their field of practice, but not all. I am not sure about other requirements for maintaining the status of lawyer, but the things I believe to be most important for the client’s sake are the training the representative takes to get to the point of competence, and continuing training thereafter.
A good representative can also recognize when he or she is not competent in a particular area. Sometimes, a client may need representation in a field where the representative has little or no experience. In those cases, a good representative will do one of three things: advise the client to find a more competent representative; refer the client to a more competent representative, or; ask the client to allow a co-counsel situation, where the inexperienced representative and a more experienced representative work together for a purpose: to help the client while allowing the inexperienced representative to gain experience under the guidance of someone who knows better what they are doing. We as RCICs co-counsel with other RCICs and lawyers. We have a pretty supportive community to draw on for advice and information.
So back to my client’s question about hiring a consultant. Why should I hire you? Well, firstly I have almost 20 years of experience in the field. I used to be an immigration officer, and therefore, used to make the decisions you are asking another officer to make. I can look at your situation and think of most of the questions and concerns likely to come up for an officer and address them before they become a question. I address situations you didn’t even know could be complications. I am up front with you when I say “this could be a problem, but if we handle it this way, things should be OK.” I am the one who knows what needs to be submitted in the application package, and yes, I do complete forms. But that isn’t all I do. I’m not aware of any lawyers who have experience as immigration officers, yet many RCICs are also former immigration, border and visa officers. I could be wrong about the lawyers, but to date, no one has corrected me. Those of us with this experience share it with other representatives, and are able to use that knowledge and experience to great advantage.
We’ve been on the other side of that desk.
In my case, I was very good at my job as an immigration officer. I was proud of the work I did there and I found that work to be challenging, yet rewarding. When I needed to make a career shift, there really wasn’t any other choice for me.