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Should I hire an Immigration Consultant or a Lawyer? Or should I do it myself?

When searching for an immigration and citizenship representative, you might have come across the term “Immigration Consultant.” You might have wondered what the difference is between an immigration consultant and a lawyer and which you should choose to handle your case. You may even question, “Do I even need help with my application as all of the information is online?”

Well, we’re going to dive into these topics and more with respect to professional representation. We will cover the different representation options and even touch on how to do your application by yourself, with some help.

Immigration and Citizenship Representatives

Immigration consultants and lawyers are both authorized paid immigration and citizenship representatives. This means that both professionals are allowed to:

  • Explain and advise on your immigration and citizenship options;
  • Help you choose the best immigration program;
  • Fill out and submit your immigration or citizenship application;
  • Communicate with the Government of Canada on your behalf;
  • Represent you in an immigration or citizenship application or hearing; and
  • Advertise that they can give immigration and citizenship advice.

Immigration and citizenship representatives can also act on your behalf for applications with:

  • Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada;
  • The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada; and
  • The Canada Border Services Agency.

You should always find out if your immigration consultant or lawyer is authorized to represent you before you retain their services. Most law societies allow you to check online to see if your representative is in good standing. Immigration consultants must be a member of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), and lawyers in Ontario must be a member of the Law Society of Ontario (LSO).

You can also contact the Better Business Bureau to see if your representative has had complaints lodged against them.

Education

One of the main differences between immigration consultants and lawyers lies in their educational credentials.

Lawyers receive much broader legal training than immigration consultants. To become a lawyer, you must complete three years of law school and one year of interning or “articling.” Lawyers are also required to pass the bar exam to become licensed. A lawyer’s scope of practice is wider than that of an immigration consultant. As lawyers can practice in whichever area of law they want, you may encounter a lawyer that does not focus on immigration law. Lawyers typically focus on two or three areas of law once they graduate and do not require any specific training in immigration to represent clients for immigration or citizenship. This is something that may not be a good thing as it is very hard to keep up with many different areas of law and being too broadly based is difficult even for the most astute professional.

In contrast, immigration consultants have much narrower legal training. It is often perceived that immigration consultants are not as qualified as lawyers because they have not been to law school. This is not the case. Immigration consultants have specific training in Canadian immigration law and their scope of practice is in immigration only. Their education and training focus is on immigration law and procedure, and they are required to complete the Entry-to-Practice Exam (EPE) to become licensed. There are two ways to become an immigration consultant: through the Immigration Practitioners Program (IPP) or a Graduate Diploma program.

The IPP is an entry-to-practice education program that prospective immigration consultants have to complete to sit the EPE. It is typically completed in one year, and some colleges offer courses online. As of December 31, 2022, the IPP will be fully phased out and replaced by a new competency-based Graduate Diploma.

As of August 1, 2020, to become a licensed immigration consultant you must go through the Graduate Diploma in Immigration and Citizenship Law program offered by Queen’s University. This is a two-term, nine-course program that will be delivered online by the Queen’s Faculty of Law. Beginning in the fall of 2021, French speakers will be able to complete the diploma through the Université de Montréal.

Lastly, when people tend to detract from the training of different professions, I find this quite unfair. It generally comes to bear with people questioning the ability of Immigration Consultants. The problem is that some of these professionals have worked as Visa Officers for decades and have retired from the government into private practice. Their experience with how the other side operates is priceless.

I would suggest that you be aware of the educational requirements but ultimately you should assess the individual’s competence and the ability to provide the level of service that you require.

Services

The services that immigration consultants and lawyers provide vary slightly. While immigration consultants offer most of the same services as lawyers regarding immigration and citizenship cases, they cannot represent you in Federal Court. For the most basic of cases, there will not be much of a difference between the services of an immigration consultant and that of a lawyer. Additionally, if you need to go to Federal court for a process called a Judicial Review (where the courts will decide on a decision that was made based on an error of Fact or Error of Law) then you will want to make sure that you have a specialized individual for the type of case that is your situation and which they will be skilled at representing. These are very different skills and are unique to the individual.

When choosing an immigration and citizenship representative, fees are one of the biggest concerns for clients. While immigration consultants typically charge less than lawyers for particular services, this is not always the case. So, it is a good idea to research the market rate before you retain the services of a representative. You can do this by reaching out to various immigration firms and getting quotes. However, I must caveat shopping on price. I strongly suggest that you do not do this as you need to understand the fees but always make your decision based on the competence of the person. The price that you pay is negligible in comparison to what you will achieve with a successful application.

Another concern that clients have is regarding the experience and expertise of immigration consultants versus immigration lawyers. It would be unfair to say that lawyers have more know-how than immigration consultants simply due to their education. It is difficult to compare the two professions as it varies on an individual basis. Given the vast number of immigration programs, it would be impossible for someone to be an expert in all areas of immigration. At the end of the day, you should look for a representative who has the most experience and expertise for your particular case. Choose a representative who has handled cases that are similar to yours and is competent to get you the desired result.

Regulation

As mentioned previously, immigration consultants and lawyers are regulated by different law societies. The purpose of these regulatory bodies is to protect the public from professional misconduct and fraud. The ICCRC is currently the national regulatory body that governs immigration consultants of Canada, and the LSO is the body that governs lawyers of Ontario.

https://iccrc-crcic.ca/
https://lso.ca/home 

How to Detect Fraud

Tip #1: Make sure your immigration consultant or lawyer has the appropriate title and credentials. Unlicensed immigration consultants may call themselves other titles that can be seen as interchangeable as the official designation. Additionally, make sure that the immigration consultant or lawyer you are speaking to is licensed and registered with their governing bodies. Always ask for an ICCRC or a Law Society Number.

Tip #2: Sign a retainer agreement. The only people who are authorized paid citizenship and immigration representatives are immigration consultants, lawyers, and paralegals. They will ask you to sign a retainer agreement before commencing services for you. Retainer agreements are contracts between you and the representative that outline the fees and services provided. Make sure that the representative’s full name appears on the retainer agreement along with their licence number.

Tip #3: Always make sure that your immigration consultant or lawyer is in good standing with their regulatory bodies. As mentioned before, you can do an online search to check. If your representative has had their licence suspended or revoked, they are not in good standing and are not authorized to represent your immigration case.

How do I know which representative is right for me?

In summary, you should keep the following tips in mind when choosing between an immigration consultant and a lawyer to handle your case:

  1. How complicated is your case? If your case is straightforward, you might want to go with an immigration consultant. If your case is complicated, you might want to go with a lawyer if there is a chance of your case going before Federal Court. You might want to ask for advice on the complexity of your case during your initial consultation with a representative.
  2. Ask about the individual professional’s experience with your area of immigration. For example, if your case is about family sponsorship, you might want to speak with a representative who has plenty of experience in this area. It does not hurt to ask!
  3. Get quotes. While immigration consultants typically charge less than lawyers for some services, it is a good idea to “shop around” so that you have an idea of what the going rate is for your case.
  4. You can get referrals from the ICCRC and LSO websites to begin your search for a representative.

 
What is an Unpaid Immigration Representative?

In simple terms, anyone can represent your application if they do not charge a fee or receive any other consideration to represent, advise, or consult you. Unpaid representatives can include:

  • family members or friends; or
  • other third parties who do not charge a fee.


Can I complete my Immigration Application without a Representative?

The short answer is yes. You are not required to hire an immigration representative, and the IRCC does not penalize you for doing so. In fact, the Government of Canada provides all forms and documents for applicants to do their own application.

You may be considering doing it yourself because of the costs of hiring a representative or you are familiar with the immigration system. Either way, it is a big decision to make. Without the help of a representative, you need to be the expert yourself, to avoid refusals or an application that is done incorrectly. It may seem like a good idea to go at it yourself to save money, but in the long term, it is worth your money to have a better chance of a successful application. People who do their own applications see multiple refusals, which can add up to outweigh the costs of hiring a representative in the first place. If the application is done incorrectly, this may forever hurt your chances of being able to come to Canada. A simple mistake you make may lead to a refusal or even a ban from immigrating to Canada. An immigration representative will oversee your application before it is submitted, using their skill and educational background on immigration to ensure you are submitting the best application possible. Doing your application by yourself presents many challenges, as the immigration process can be confusing and difficult to navigate. While there is a website out there, the website is not the law and it is important that you know everything specific to your individual case before filing anything with the immigration department. There are some very important considerations that you need to take into account should you go the self-representation route.

A Final Word

Here we have provided you with an overview of your immigration representative choices. We have looked through the differences between an immigration consultant and lawyer while examining their credentials; presented many tips to keep in mind when choosing your representative; compared a paid representative vs. an unpaid representative; and even explored the self-representation route.

Should you have any questions about your representation choice you can get a representative primer by clicking here or feel free to reach out to us and we will surely get you started to understand the options that are available to you! 


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