With some regularity, the question of whether or not an applicant should use the services of an immigration consultant comes up on the BE forum. This really is an issue that each applicant has to decide for him/herself. However, it may help in that decision if some of the pros and cons of immigration consultants are listed here:
- If an immigration consultant is competent, his/her services will give you peace of mind. He/she will ensure that all the t's have been crossed and all the i's have been dotted before your application is submitted. You can rest assured that there is nothing that is critical to your application that has slipped through the cracks.
- Some BE members who have used immigration consultants whom they feel provided good service have reported that the consultants did more for them than merely dot i's and cross t's. They report that the consultants helped them to build a "case" and to assemble "evidence" that would not have occurred to the applicants on their own. In this sense the consultants helped the applicants not only to complete the forms correctly but also to create a portfolio that would present them in the best light and that would help to convince an immigration officer that the applicants had a good chance of settling successfully in Canada.
- You may want to keep in mind that the immigration officer does not base his/her decision on points alone. He/she can use his/her discretion in assessing whether or not an applicant is likely to be able to fit into Canada. (If one immigration officer rejects an applicant on a discretionary basis, however, the rules state that another immigration officer must examine the file. Only if two immigration officers reach the same conclusion is the application rejected.)
- If you face complications (criminal background that requires rehabilitation, blended family with uncooperative former partner(s), health issues, need for a sophisticated business plan, etc., etc.), it can be especially helpful to have an immigration consultant advising you and helping you to navigate the complex waters of the application process.
- If you look at the options for immigration and don't see one that immediately fits your situation, you may need to be creative and "think outside the box." An immigration consultant may be able to brain storm and identify a workaround that would not have occurred to you.
- If you are dealing with a prospective employer who is very unfamiliar with the immigration process, your having an immigration consultant may be a source of reassurance to the employer. For example, there are at least a couple of BE forum members who have reported that their immigration consultants walked their employers through the employers' parts of the sponsorship processes that were required for Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs).
- Using the services of an immigration consultant is an expensive exercise.
- Your immigration consultant cannot do your footwork on your behalf. Even if you do have an immigration consultant working with you, it will be you who has to assemble the numerous documents that the immigration process requires. It is a time consuming slog from which your immigration consultant cannot rescue you.
- Many members of the BE forum have succeeded in gaining entry to Canada on their own.
Choosing a consultant
- If you are going to use a consultant, make sure he/she is licensed to represent you. Some of the people who claim to be "immigration consultants" are not recognised by the Canadian authorities.
- To represent someone who is applying to immigrate to Canada the consultant must be either a Canadian lawyer (a member a provincial law association in Canada) or a certified member of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council.
- The CIC web page states that, if you use a consultant who charges a fee to represent you and that consultant is not approved by CIC, your application will not be processed and will be returned!
- If you decide to secure the services of an immigration consultant, it may be prudent to search previous threads on the topic in the [Canadian Immigration forum] and/or make enquiries on that forum. There you can find the names of consultants whom other forum members have found to be good and be warned against those with whom other forum members have had negative experiences.
- If you retain the services of a lawyer, ensure that he/she is an immigration specialist and not a generalist.
What do BE forum members do?
- A January 2008 poll on the BE forum revealed that about 25% of the people who responded had used immigration consultants and about 75% had handled their own immigration applications.
- With that having been said, if you ask about immigration consultants on the British Expats forum, you may receive responses from people who are pro consultants and from people who are anti consultants. To make things more confusing, both groups of people may have equally strong feelings about the topic.
- The thing you need to understand is that people have had a variety of experiences when it comes to immigration consultants.
- There are people who used immigration consultants and who were very happy with them. The consultants saved them from making serious mistakes that they otherwise would have made, the consultants ensured the nothing important slipped through the cracks, or the consultants helped them with complex situations (custody battles, criminal records, or whatever). These people may have a very favourable impression of consultants and may recommend them very highly.
- There are people who used immigration consultants, who received competent service from those consultants, but who realize in hindsight that they could have handled their own applications.
- There are people who used immigration consultants who turned out to be incompetent, careless, and/or unresponsive and inattentive and who, in some cases, made mistakes. Some of these people have a very negative opinion of immigration consultants.
- There are people who handled their own applications and who succeeded in gaining entry to Canada on their own. These people may feel very strongly that it's best to save money and go down the Do It Yourself route.
- There are people who did and who did not use immigration consultants, but who are conscious that their way may not be the right way for everyone.
- If you ask questions about immigration consultants on the British Expats forum, you may get responses from people in some or all of the above mentioned camps. It just depends who's on the forum at the time and who feels like responding to your question.
What should you do?
- Whatever you do, it is highly recommended that you avoid a knee-jerk reaction to this issue.
- Do not assume from the outset that you do or do not need an immigration consultant.
- Familiarize yourself with the immigration process, and decide later whether or not it would be best for you to hire an immigration consultant, based on:
- The simplicity or complexity of your case. A custody battle over a child, a criminal record, an application via one of the business categories might be circumstances that would cause you to consider an immigration consultant. But, with that having been said, some BE forum members have handled even some of these more complex situations on their own.
- Your financial circumstances. For example, will hiring an immigration consultant mean that you won't be able to afford a recce trip to Canada? In the opinion of this author, a scouting trip to Canada is highly beneficial and, in the vast majority of cases, should not be sacrificed in favour of an immigration consultant.
- Your capacity to deal with an application process that requires a high level of attention to detail. The application forms and accompanying instructions are not difficult as such. However, they are very time consuming, and they require that you be extremely methodical. (But keep in mind that, even if you hire an immigration consultant, you'll still have to assemble a great many documents. It's just that a competent immigration consultant will catch any gaps in your paperwork and remind you to fill them in.)
- Although the reported mishaps have been infrequent, BE forum members have reported instances in which immigration consultants and immigration lawyers have let them down and have messed up their applications in one way or another.
- If you retain an immigration consultant or lawyer, monitor what they're doing, educate yourself about immigration issues, and stay in charge of the process.
Consequences of messing up
- If your application to enter Canada is refused, there are various remedies that you can try (appeal the decision, apply again, etc.).
- However, keep in mind that, when you apply again, immigration authorities will have access to the information in your previous file.
- Any information that showed you up in a poor light during your earlier attempt will be visible to authorities during your next attempt.