Why fake immigration lawyers are a problem for employers

Scam involving fake immigration lawyers targets immigration hopefuls, current employees in Canada

Why fake immigration lawyers are a problem for employers

The Montreal Bar has launched an investigation into what it says has been an uptick in fake immigration lawyers preying on hopeful Canadian immigrants, refugees and other newcomers.

Nearly 40 percent of the illegal law practices that the bar investigated in 2022 involved immigration, compared to 13 percent in 2018, the CBC reported.

The practice can have knock-on effects for employers who find themselves in the midst of compliance complications, said Lisa Middlemiss, Montreal immigration lawyer and representative of the National Immigration Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association.

“Unfortunately, there's a problem with fraudsters, people who may be pretending to be lawyers or consultants; they may be abroad, they might not even be in Canada, but employees may have contact with these people who claim that they can obtain a work permit or what have you, and really are not able to do any of that,” Middlemiss told Canadian HR Reporter.

“With the Canadian Bar Association’s Immigration Section, we've been actively getting the word out about ensuring that authorized representatives operate in this space only.”

Fake immigration lawyer scam

Immigrants just entering Canada aren’t the only ones susceptible to this type of fraud – it can also happen to individuals who are already working in the country on various permits who are waiting for permanent residency (PR) applications to be processed.

Middlemiss cited a recent client that had employed a new university graduate who was told by a “legal advisor” not to extend their expired work permit while they waited for their permanent residence (PR) application to be processed.

Foreign workers in Canada whose work permits expire are required to apply for a Bridging Open Work Permit (BOWP) while waiting for their PR, which this employee was never told.

“They just hung out in Canada after their work permit expired,” said Middlemiss. “They got a refusal decision on their permanent residence, and now the employer finds out that this individual has been working in Canada illegally for the last three months, so they have to put them on either an unpaid leave of absence or terminate their employment immediately.”

Not only that — the individual will have difficulty getting a work permit in the future because they worked illegally, making it even harder for the company to bring them back, she said.

“This shows how one big mistake from this nebulous advisor, whoever they are, can jeopardize the chances of this individual, a qualified, skilled person, and both her and her employer’s plans for her to stay in Canada.”

Canadian Bar updates rules for immigration consultants

A problem with this immigration scam, Middlemiss said, is that it is difficult to hold bad actors accountable. The College of Immigration and Citizenship Consultants (CICC) is currently reviewing its standards of conduct, which the Canadian Bar Association was involved in creating.

Middlemiss said she would like to see consultants held to the same standards as lawyers, as even licensed consultants have been problematic but difficult to discipline. The bar has also recommended that consultants be required to distinguish themselves from lawyers in marketing materials.

Within Quebec, there are firms of consultants that pose as law firms with misleading websites, she said.

“Over the years, even with registered consultants, there have been issues, and the public finds it difficult sometimes in these sorts of situations to be able to hold that individual to task,” said Middlemiss.

“Money’s been taken, there's no results, or there are promised results but no results. So we have been very active advising the government with respect to the code of conduct, and I think that that'll be coming up for review in the coming months, to see how the College is doing at reviewing their own members.”

Now in the third iteration of its regulatory framework, the CICC is currently working with the government on more “rigorous” rules in terms of recourse for bad faith operators, she said.

Best practice for HR: check records and ask questions

To protect themselves from fraud of this nature, and also to support current and prospective employees on work permits, Middlemiss recommended that HR professionals ask questions about who is providing potential hires with their legal advice, and whether they are registered with provincial law associations.

HR professionals should also regularly check employee files for expiring work permits and ensure other residency documents are updated. And when things get complex, consult registered immigration lawyers, she said.

“There is counsel out there doing this day by day, that know these rules, know the law and the regulations in Canada which are constantly changing in immigration, and can provide that counsel and advice when things get complicated in a file for onboarding an employee or helping with their permanent residence.”


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