Report: IM Yearbook 2019/2020
Media: Investment Migration Yearbook 2019/2020
Sector: Investment Migration
Publication Date: June 2019
Gerd Damitz, Past President of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants (CAPIC)
Regulated Consultants Keep Fraud at Bay
While Canada has long been self-regulating immigration consultants, the country is now on its way to giving the industry watchdog more power to investigate offenders and enforce regulation. Gerd Damitz, Past President of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants (CAPIC), talks about Canada’s experience in self-regulation and explains why he believes that Canada can be a role model for others.
Can you give us a brief overview of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants (CAPIC) and the regulation of immigration consultants in Canada?
CAPIC is Canada’s largest non-profit organisation of immigration practitioners and has some 2,500 members. All our members are regulated by the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), the current industry self-regulator overseeing immigration consultants offering paid advice, consultation, assistance or representation services to individuals planning to immigrate to Canada. All immigration and citizenship consultants – there is a total of 5,000 in Canada – need to be licensed by the ICCRC.
When did Canada decide to regulate consultants and how would you describe Canada’s regulatory journey so far?
Canada started looking at regulating immigration specialists some 20 years ago, at a time when there were a couple of fraud cases and missing standards shaking the industry. However, the road to self-regulation was long and winding. Initially, we faced strong opposition from the law societies which challenged the idea of non-lawyers representing clients in immigration matters. The Supreme Court of Canada eventually ruled in favour of immigration consultants providing broader legal access to the public. In 2004, the first regulator for the industry was set up, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC). However, in the years that followed, CSIC was heavily criticised by the public and practitioners alike, due to internal mismanagement, and eventually CSIC stopped operating. The Immigration Minister at the time then asked for submissions from candidates interested in becoming the regulator of immigration consultants, and we, as CAPIC, assisted and supported the bid of the ICCRC, the current regulator. However, the problem of unauthorised practitioners persists to the present day.
Is fraud a big issue in the industry?
Not so much in terms of regulated professionals, though black sheep are everywhere. However, it is a huge problem on the unregulated side. Thus far, there is very little we can do. The ICCRC was established as a not-for-profit corporation and has no regulatory power to pursue unauthorised immigration practitioners within Canada. They can only forward related complaints to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which naturally will concentrate their resources on very serious cases. Besides, most unauthorised practitioners are based outside of Canada, which makes it even more difficult to deal with fraud cases. We have been lobbying intensively over the past years to provide the ICCRC with the statutory power to proceed with complaints against unauthorized practitioners and obtain also more enforcement power with respect to regulated consultants. In our opinion, it is important that a regulator has international reach and the power to negotiate agreements with foreign government departments in order to address unregulated practitioners operating outside Canada, but handling Canadian immigration files. I am happy to add that our efforts are bearing fruits. In April 2019, the Government of Canada proposed in a federal statute the creation of a new body, the College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CICC), to govern and regulate immigration and citizenship consultants and ensure their professional conduct. Under the current plans, the system will retain self-regulatory elements, but the College would have the powers and tools required for vigorous oversight, enforcement, investigations and punishment to root out fraudulent, unregulated immigration and citizenship consultants and hold them accountable for their actions inside and outside of Canada.
CAPIC has been instrumental in shaping Canada’s legislation and creating a regulated environment for the profession. What would you highlight as the main challenges along the way to this newest federal statute?
The biggest challenge was to convince the consultant community in the first place. I do not exaggerate when saying that initially there were only a handful of people who believed in the idea of self-regulation by federal statute. We spent many hours trying to convince our colleagues that this would be the tool to overcome existing deficiencies. The next step was to convince government and policy-makers, and we haven’t stopped lobbying to this day. Self-regulation is a privilege, not a right, which the Government of Canada can remove, as it has previously done. We have been talking to all members of parliament, not just to government, showcasing that self-regulation is working. We know that there has been room for improvement, but the point is that both the industry and the regulator are learning from mistakes and improving accordingly. So we lobby on the micro and the macro level, and also focus our attention on the media and the general public. A major point has been about getting journalists to make a clear distinction between regulated consultants and unregulated practitioners, and the message seems to be getting through. In addition, we are running a number of initiatives to show the general public the benefits of the current system and are present in communities where we offer free immigration clinics.
Do you believe Canada could be an example for other countries to follow, and do you have any advice for professionals seeking to address negative perceptions of the industry?
I think Canada can be an example, even for countries and organisations in the European Union. Canada is a federal state and lobbying here means dealing with many provincial governments who actually have a lot of power. In a way, it is pretty similar to the situation in Europe with its different actors who all follow their own agenda. We know from experience that it requires a lot of patience to achieve a common position that works for all, but the only way to get there is to convince different parties in different regions with rational arguments. It is very important to make it a bi-partisan subject, and in my opinion the key words are ‘consumer protection’. Consumer protection is in the interest of everyone; politicians, policy-makers and the industry itself, since we all know that one bad apple spoils the whole barrel.
What’s your outlook for the future?
We still have a lot of work ahead of us. Federal elections are scheduled for autumn 2019, so it is very important for us to continue lobbying to all parties. Even though right now it looks like we will be able to continue with elements of self-regulation, the potential of a full government regulation remains. We argue that we are a young industry, self-regulated only for about 15 years, but the sector is maturing quickly. If you compare this with the law societies that are 200 plus years old, we have come a long way in a relatively short period of time.
BIO: Gerd Damitz holds a BA/ MBA in Corporate Planning & Human Resources. Besides his decade-long experience as an expert in Strategic Planning and as a General Manager of a Stock Exchange Registered Corp, he has been a professional Canadian Immigration Consultant for the last 20 years. He also held various executive positions in associations significantly defining the existing immigration consultant industry structures. He is a Past President of AICC, a Founding & Past President of CAPIC, a Founding Director of the Regulator ICCRC, and received for his contribution several industry awards. For many years he has been a leading Industry Association representative at meetings with the Canadian Government and Members of Parliament.