The following article appeared in the November issue of Canadian immigrant magazine:

Who Can Help You with Immigration Matters
Understanding the New Regulations   

I frequently receive e-mails from individuals asking if it is true that it is either illegal or impossible to immigrate toCanadawithout hiring a lawyer or a paid consultant.  Some people appear to be under the mistaken impression that the Government of Canada recently enacted regulations to this affect.  I am not sure what the source of this misinformation is, but hopefully by the end of this article I will have dispelled these myths.

Bill C-35

The first misconception that needs to be clarified is the substance of Bill C-35, which came into force on June 31, 2011.  Bill C-35 changed many rules pertaining to immigration representatives, however, not one of them made it mandatory to hire a paid representative.

Amongst other things, Bill C-35 makes it an offence for anyone other an authorized representative to conduct business, for a fee or other benefit, at any stage of an immigration application or proceeding.  Authorized representatives include lawyers, paralegals in certain provinces, and members of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (“ICCRC”).  The penalty for providing paid advice despite being unauthorized to do so is up to a $100,000 fine and/or two years imprisonment for up to two years.

Importantly, unpaid third parties, such as friends and family, do not have to be authorized representatives to act on behalf of potential immigrants.

Even more importantly, most of Bill C-35’s provisions pertain to the regulation of who can and cannot provide paid advice to potential immigrants.  It does not require individuals to hire a paid representative.

The Risks of Hiring an Unauthorized Representative

If you have an immigration issue and are considering hiring someone to assist you on a paid basis, then it is important to note that the onus is on you to determine whether the individual is authorized to do so.  You can determine this by consulting either your respective province’s Law Society website, or the ICCRC website, to determine whether the person you are considering to represent you is a member in good standing.

If you are considering hiring someone that is not authorized, it is important to understand some of the consequences of doing so.

If you submit an application and disclose that you have retained an individual who is not an authorized representative to help you then your application is likely to be returned to you.  The result of this is simply wasted time.

If you try to hide the fact that you have hired a paid representative, and Citizenship and Immigration Canada discovers this, then you may be accused of misrepresentation.  Bill C-35 requires that applicants be honest in disclosing who assisted them with their applications.  The consequence of being determined to have committed misrepresentation is a two year ban on enteringCanada.

(As an aside, our office routinely represents people in court, or before the Immigration and Refugee Board, who have been banned from Canada for two years because they listened to someone whispering sweet nothings about how they had “secret connections in the government” or how “CIC is scared of how good I am so don’t disclose that I am on the file.”  Please don’t believe this stuff.)

Is it Impossible?

Hopefully I have dispelled the myth that you have to hire a paid representative in order to immigrate toCanada.  However, even if it is not illegal to apply without paid representation, is it impossible to succeed without it?  Once again, the answer is of course not.

Whether or not you choose to hire a paid representative to help you with your immigration matter will depend on numerous factors, including your individual circumstances, whether there are complex issues with your application, your comfort level, and the opportunity cost of you spending numerous hours preparing paperwork.

You should consider the above factors before making a decision on whether to hire a paid representative.  However, you should not base your decision on the misconception that it is either illegal or impossible to immigrate without a paid representative.