While planning your move to Canada, one of the first steps is to apply to an immigration program. Whether you’re planning to come to Canada as a permanent resident (PR) or temporary resident, such as on a study permit or work permit, the application process can be quite complex and requires a lot of documentation.
Many applicants hire an immigration consultant to help them choose the right immigration program and to submit their applications. Hiring an immigration consultant is not a requirement, but it can make the application process simpler for you and reduce the likelihood of errors. However, not everyone is authorised to offer advice on Canadian immigration applications. In this article, we provide tips and information on how to choose an immigration consultant for Canada, including the services consultants offer and red flags to watch out for while hiring one.
In this article:
- Who is an immigration consultant?
- What services do immigration consultants or lawyers offer?
- Is an immigration consultant the same as an immigration representative?
- Do I need an immigration consultant to move to Canada?
- Does my immigration consultant have to be based in Canada?
- How to find the right immigration consultant?
- How much does a Canadian immigration consultant cost?
- Eight red flags to watch out for while hiring an immigration consultant
- Filing a complaint against an authorised immigration consultant
Who is an immigration consultant?
An immigration consultant is an individual or organisation you hire to provide advice, guidance, or support in completing and submitting immigration or citizenship applications. Not everyone is authorised to offer these services and, in countries like Canada, the profession is highly regulated.
The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CICC), previously known as the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), regulates consultants who offer citizenship and immigration consulting services for Canada.
Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultants (RCIC) are authorised by the CICC to charge a fee to provide advice, representation, or to submit your Canadian immigration application on your behalf. The CICC also regulates qualified student immigration advisors, known as Regulated International Student Immigration Advisors (RISIA), who offer guidance and support specifically for study permit applications, but cannot submit applications for you.
To become an RCIC or RISIA and register with the CICC, consultants must meet certain academic requirements, complete a one-year certification program, and pass the Entry-to-Practice Exam (EPE). Only Canadian permanent residents and citizens are allowed to appear for the Entry-to-Practice exam, but they are free to practice in other countries after getting certified.
In addition to immigration consultants, immigration lawyers can also offer advice and representation for temporary visas, PR, and citizenship applications for Canada. Immigration lawyers are not regulated by CICC. However, they need to have a law degree and must be registered with the Canadian Bar Association and a Canadian province.
Before you hire an immigration consultant for Canada, ask if they are registered with the CICC. If you use an unauthorised representative, the government may reject or return your application.
What services do immigration consultants or lawyers offer?
Many people choose to hire an immigration consultant to help with their temporary residence, permanent residence (PR), or citizenship applications. Authorised immigration consultants and immigration lawyers can charge a fee to provide you with some or all of the below services:
- Explain or give advice on immigration options: The best immigration consultants will typically help you understand the various Canadian immigration programs you can apply for, including their eligibility criteria, application process, required documentation, and fees.
- Help you choose the ideal program for you: Based on your qualifications, age, work experience, and other factors, an immigration consultant can help you identify immigration programs you are likely to qualify for. They cannot, however, provide any guarantee as to whether your application will be approved. For instance, if you want to apply for PR through Express Entry, but your estimated score is low, they may advise you to apply for a temporary program you have a better chance of qualifying for, such as a study permit.
- Submit your immigration application on your behalf: Authorised RCICs can also fill out and submit study permit, work permit, permanent residence, and Canadian citizenship applications for you. When you hire a consultant to submit your application on your behalf, you will need to share your personal information and essential documents with them. A consultant can also review any applications you’ve filled yourself and make sure you’re not missing out on any crucial information or paperwork.
- Communicate with the government of Canada on your behalf, if needed: When you apply for immigration, the government may send you communication regarding any further action that is required for your application, such as submission of additional documents. You may also need to contact them for more information on your application processing status. An authorised immigration consultant can act as your representative and manage such communication on your behalf.
In rare cases, immigration or citizenship applications may be subject to a legal hearing. This typically only happens if there’s evidence you’ve misrepresented information or may be inadmissible to Canada due to criminality or other reasons. In such cases, an immigration lawyer, unlike an immigration consultant, can represent you in a Canadian court of law.
Unlike RCICs, who can fill and submit any type of immigration applications on your behalf, RISIAs can only provide immigration advice in the areas of study permits. They cannot provide representation in immigration matters or fill out immigration forms for students.
Is an immigration consultant the same as an immigration representative?
The term “immigration representative” is often used in the Canadian immigration process. An immigration representative doesn’t necessarily have to be an immigration consultant. It can be anyone you select to act on your behalf for your immigration application, regardless of whether you compensate them for their service. You can choose an authorised immigration consultant (usually paid), a friend, family member, or another third party as your immigration representative.
When you appoint an immigration representative, you will need to fill out form IMM 5476 – Use of a representative allowing them to communicate with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) or the Government of Canada on your behalf and authorising the Government to release your application information to them. Your representative can also fill out this form for you and ask you to sign it.
Do I need an immigration consultant to move to Canada?
You don’t necessarily need to hire an immigration consultant to help with your application. Instead, you can choose to file your immigration application online or on paper yourself without any external support.
It’s important to note that hiring an immigration consultant does not mean that your application will be prioritised or approved by the Government of Canada.
That being said, immigration applications can be quite complex, especially if you plan to apply for PR through streams such as the Provincial Nominee Program, Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot (RNIP) or Atlantic Immigration Program. Immigration consultants are well-versed in the various immigration programs and paperwork needed, and can offer knowledgeable advice to ensure that your application is filed accurately.
An immigration consultant will also have a fair idea about your application’s likelihood of being accepted, based on the supporting evidence you share, and can guide you on how to improve your chances of qualifying for temporary or permanent residence in Canada.
For many, hiring an immigration consultant is a convenient option––especially if you don’t have time or find the process confusing. It is also a good idea to opt for a consultant if you’ve previously had a Canadian immigration application refused because of errors or incomplete documentation. If you have reason to believe you may be deemed inadmissible for entry into Canada due to a criminal conviction or medical concern, it’s best to seek the services of an authorised immigration lawyer or consultant.
Does my immigration consultant have to be based in Canada?
The immigration consultant you hire for your Canadian immigration application doesn’t necessarily have to be in Canada. You can choose an immigration consultant based in your home country, in Canada, or anywhere else, as long as they are registered with the CICC. The only exception is RISIAs, who are typically based in Canada and affiliated with a specific Learning Institution.
Authorised consultants who advertise for and provide assistance with immigration to Canada, regardless of which country they practice in, must be registered with the CICC.
The CICC maintains a public register of authorised RCICs, so you can find one in your home country or verify the consultant you choose is legally permitted to offer those services and in good standing with the CICC. You can also find authorised RISIAs affiliated with a particular Canadian university or college in the RISIA register.
It is illegal for an individual or organisation, anywhere in the world, to offer Canadian immigration services without being licensed by the CICC.
How to find the right immigration consultant?
If you do choose to work with an immigration consultant, it’s important to find someone who is legitimate and trustworthy. Here are some tips to help you find the right immigration consultant:
- Ask for recommendations: Ask your family members or friends who’ve previously visited or moved to Canada about their experience with immigration consultants they worked with, if any.
- Check their licence number or authorization: The Government of Canada will not deal with unauthorised consultants, so be sure to select a licensed immigration consultant to help with your application. You can search for a licensed Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant (RCIC) by name, location, and licensing status in the CICC register. For Regulated International Student Immigration Advisors (RISIA), the CICC lists active consultants who provide advice on study permit applications for various Canadian universities and colleges.
- Ask about their training and experience: When shortlisting suitable consultants, be sure to ask about their education, certification, and years of experience. You can also ask them to share references or a list of other applicants they’ve helped in the past you can speak to for an honest review.
- Ask about their services and fee: While most RCICs offer similar services, some might have areas of specialisation, such as PR consultants for Canada. It’s good to clarify how much they’ll charge and what their fee will cover. It’s good to get quotes from two or more consultants in your area to make sure you’re not overcharged.
- Get a written contract: When you hire a consultant, it’s important to get a written contract that includes all the terms that you discussed, including what they’ll provide and the fee you’ll pay. Read the contract carefully before you sign.
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How much does a Canadian immigration consultant cost?
The fee charged by Canadian immigration consultants can vary significantly based on the immigration program you apply for, the country they are based in, the size and reputation of the company, and the services you require. On average, consultants charge the following, depending on the type of your application:
- Express Entry: $1,000 to $4,500 for the primary applicant and $500 per additional applicant, depending on the stream you choose.
- Provincial Nominee Programs: $2,500 to $5,000 for the primary applicant and $500 per additional applicant, depending on the stream you choose and the complexity of your application. In some countries, the fees can be as low as $1,000.
- Study permit: $700 to $2,500. The fees may be higher if you’ve previously had an application rejected.
- Post-graduation Work permit (PGWP): $500 to $1,000.
- Work permit: $1,600 to $3,500, depending on the type of work permit and whether your occupation requires an LMIA.
- Canadian citizenship: $600 to $1,200.
The amounts stated above are indicative and the fees charged by consultants in your country may be very different. These figures are only consultant fees and do not include the application costs charged by IRCC.
Eight red flags to watch out for when hiring an immigration consultant
Hiring the wrong immigration consultant can seriously damage your chances of qualifying for immigration to Canada. During your search, it’s important to watch out for signs a consultant is not being honest with you. If you come across any of the following red flags, it’s best to find another consultant to help with your application:
- Reluctance to verify their authenticity: If an immigration consultant refuses to share their CICC identification number (or provincial law association listing, in the case of an immigration lawyer) or provide references you can contact, they may be running an unauthorised business.
- Inability to fill and submit an application on your behalf: Authorised RCICs and immigration lawyers are allowed to act as your representative and submit Canadian immigration applications on your behalf. If your consultant tells you that they can only guide you but can’t submit the application for you, they may not be licensed by the CICC. The only exception is RISIAs, who are only permitted to offer advice on study permit applications and cannot fill applications on your behalf.
- Contract terms that seem too good to be true: For instance, if a consultant asks for a fee that’s much lower than usual in your region, it could be a scam. In some cases, fraudulent consultants may also misrepresent their services, such as by advertising immigration services as free or quoting a lower price and then asking for more money to complete your application.
- Guarantees regarding your application: While immigration consultants and lawyers usually know from experience which applications are likely to get accepted, they cannot provide any guarantees. Similarly, if a consultant guarantees you’ll get a job offer or admission into a Canadian university or asks for money in exchange for a job in Canada, it’s likely fraud.
- Encouraging you to provide false information: Avoid consultants who ask you to misrepresent facts or provide false information or documents for your application. Lying on your application is a punishable offence and, even if your application gets approved, you can be denied entry into Canada or deported.
- Refusal to provide a written contract: Do not make any payments to an immigration consultant before you’ve received a written contract and verified its terms. Any consultant who refuses to give you a signed contract may be trying to scam you.
- Asking you to sign blank documents or documents you haven’t read: Never sign blank paperwork, documents you haven’t read, or don’t understand. If the documents your immigration consultant asks you to sign are in a language you don’t understand, ask someone you trust to translate them for you or hire an impartial translator.
- Irregular payment terms: Not getting a signed receipt for payments or being asked to pay in cash, by wire transfer, Paypal, or other hard-to-trace methods can be signs of fraud. Legitimate immigration consultants should accept payments through bank transfers or cheques. It’s also a good idea to ask your consultant to clearly specify the application fee for the immigration program you’re applying to and for their services. You can then verify the immigration application fee online to ensure you’re not being cheated.
Filing a complaint against an authorised immigration consultant
There may occasionally be instances where an authorised immigration consultant is not competent or does not act professionally while helping with your application. In such cases, you can file a complaint with the regulators listed below:
- Complaint against an RCIC or RISIA: You can file a complaint with the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CICC). You’ll need to submit documentary evidence and names of people who can support your claim. The CICC will investigate complaints about unprofessional, unethical, or incompetent practice by licensed consultants and can even suspend their licenses. However, they will not look into disputes regarding fees charged by authorised consultants.
- Complaint against an immigration lawyer or notary: If you wish to make a complaint against a lawyer or notary registered in Canada, you’ll need to contact the concerned Canadian provincial or territorial law society or the Chambre des notaires du Québec.
It’s important to note the Canadian government will not deal with unauthorised representatives or consultants, even if you’ve paid fees for their services. The CICC also has limited legal authority over unauthorised consultants, but they can work with the government to restrict individuals or organisations who practice without a licence.
It is your responsibility to choose a licensed consultant. Working with an unauthorised consultant can be harmful to your application and puts you at greater risk of fraud. If you’ve inadvertently hired an unauthorised consultant or have come across one while searching for an immigration consultant for Canada, you should report them to the CICC online.
If you suspect that your immigration representative has committed fraud or provided misinformation about your application, notify the IRCC immediately and change or remove the representative from your application. You should also file an official complaint with the Canada Border Services Agency.
Many newcomers hire an immigration consultant or lawyer to help them with their Canadian immigration applications. Immigration applications can be complex and, if you’re hiring a consultant to represent you, it’s important to ensure they are authorised and have experience with such work. Working with a consultant who’s not authorised can expose you to the risk of your application being rejected and even fraud.