When I checked my inbox this morning I found a very important email from an organization of immigration professionals which I belong to.
In fact, this email is so crucial to my ability to practice immigration law that I forwarded it to all of my staff, saved it in our firm’s electronic address book, and printed it for inclusion in the binder that sits on my desk right by my telephone.
Yet, the truth is that this email makes me feel like I am a silent partner in a bit of a deception being perpetrated on the public by CIC. Let me explain.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada clearly takes great public pride in the amount of information and resources it provides to the public through its website and call centre. CIC boasts that “All the forms and information that you need to apply for a visa are available for free on this website.”
Therefore, it’s no wonder that in the website’s FAQ, the answer to the question: “Do I need an immigration representative to help me apply?” is a “no.”
The public is told that “The Government of Canada treats everyone equally, whether they use a representative or not.”
Will your case be processed more quickly if you hire a representative? CIC advises that “If you choose to hire a representative, your application will not be given special attention by the immigration officer.”
Is this really true? Is all the information you need really out there? Do you need a lawyer? Would it make any difference if you have one? Put another way: are people who are using lawyers and consultants to handle their immigration applications just throwing away their money?
I hate answering these questions since doing other people’s immigration work is how I make my living. People would be justified in being sceptical about my answers to these questions.
But the truth is “all the information you need” is not really out there and, yes, in many cases a lawyer or consultant’s involvement can spell the difference between success, delay, or abject failure.
The information at cic.gc.ca is general in nature and cannot possibly contemplate the infinite factual scenarios that applicants might present when applying. Furthermore, the agents at the call centre cannot and do not provide callers with legal advice. It is simply not in their mandate to do so. Instead, they give “general information on the CIC lines of business… provide case specific information, and accept orders for CIC publications and application kits.”
In other words, they can’t tell you what you ‘should’ do when confronted with obstacles or strategic decisions to make.
Also, if you encounter a problem that needs to be escalated, which is not uncommon, you will find precious little information on the CIC website as to where to direct your complaint or question.
Not so with immigration professionals.
The email I received this morning is an update of CIC’s protocol on how immigration professionals should direct their queries. The correspondence contains the email address for every Canadian visa post overseas and the names and email addresses of the immigration program managers at each of those offices. It tells us how, and to whom, to direct case-specific enquiries to the Case Management Branch in Ottawa and when and how to follow up if we do not receive a timely reply. It provides instructions on how to direct communications relating to quality of service complaints, situations involving possible misconduct or malfeasance of immigration officers, procedures, operational and selection policy, and processing times and levels.
To my knowledge, this information is not shared with members of the public. CIC’s failure to publicise this information does not reflect preferential treatment for those who are represented. Instead, it is simply an acknowledgement that immigration professionals do, and have always, played a vital role in making an overburdened and under-resourced program function at all (if not function well).
Sharing this information with the public would result in an avalanche of correspondence being directed at senior officials who are spread out so thinly that they could never get any other work done.
It is true that, except in exceptional and deserving cases, hiring a lawyer or consultant can’t get an application moved from the back of the line to the front of the line. Also, an officer will not approve an applicant who is not qualified just because he or she is represented. However, it is also true that an honest and experienced representative won’t clog up the system by submitting an application that simply won’t fly.
Furthermore, professionals who specialize in this area know the process and know how to avoid errors that cause delays. They know how to sift through mounds of convoluted facts and properly and convincingly document and present the salient ones in order to establish the basis for the approval of the application quickly and efficiently.
CIC doesn’t like to acknowledge the positive role lawyers and consultants play in making its bureaucracy work for the public. It is loath to see us as partners in delivering the immigration plan it is given annually by Canada’s immigration minister of the day.
That’s ok… this morning’s email is all the acknowledgement I need.