Monday, June 18, 2007

Immigration Consultants

When we were thinking of moving to Canada, over a decade ago, the Canadian embassy was just being set up in the capital. It was a rented apartment, converted into an office, in a small, unremarkable building in an incognito part of the city. I remember going with my Dad to pick up some forms as well as some university information packages.

We took the elevator to the floor, found one hand-painted sign proclaiming 'Canadian Embassy' on a door. Pushing it open, we saw some movers shifting boxes of furniture.

"Hi," My dad walked to the empty desk marked 'information'. "I am looking for some information. Do you know where the receptionist is?"

"That," one of the movers came forward and shook our hands, "would be me."

"Oh," I interjected. "I also want to meet someone who can tell me a bit about universities in Canada."

"That," the man replied with a smile, "would be me again."

Ah! That man - was the Ambassador of Canada to that country.

That small meeting with the Ambassador, where he served us coffee from a can, a brand unknown to me then (Tim Hortons), led him to naming one of his friends who worked as an immigration consultant in the area. And it was through this guy that we, and almost countless others of our friends, applied for and obtained immigration to Canada.

From that one-man operation the embassy is now a sprawling complex with various departments to handle all its affairs, not surprising given the amount of trade and Canada's role in affairs in that part of the world nowadays. However, given the huge demand that is the result of people wanting to move to Canada, there are now hundreds of people free lancing as "immigration consultants to Canada" across the world, and many here in Toronto.

Truth be told, most of us know of at least one guy or family that are here on not exactly legal terms. They have filed for a "refugee" status while not being refugees at all, or have overstayed their visa, and what not. "Don't worry," is the usual response, "we got lawyers working on it."

The Toronto Star recently did an underground investigation into these 'consultants'. And their results are shocking. They had reporters wear wire and hidden cameras. The compiled videos are available on their website, and make for revealing findings. You should read that article and see the videos (the Karan Arora one is the best!).

I had mixed feelings when I was reading that article. Sure, not everyone comes here legally. But some people are just good honest folks who contribute to society, they are just caught on the wrong side of paperwork. But then I realized, shouldn't alarm bells start to go off when your consultant asks you to lie? When he or she says, "Don't worry, you wouldn't need to do anything, we will decide on a story for you."

What is unfortunate is that many of these 'false refugee' cases take years to settle (usually they are not approved). So after 5 years of building a life here, these immigrants have to get out of the country, are prohibited from re-entering because they have 'lied' on their application, lost tons of money. Meanwhile, the 'consultant' is free, richer and able to ply his or her trade on a new batch of immigrants.

I would blame the clients for not doing their research. But then, go to Bangladesh and go to one of these offices for these 'consultants'. They have certificates galore from everywhere to prove their 'credentials'. How would you know who is real and who is not? After all, not all immigrant consultants come recommended by an Ambassador.


Rawi said...

I guess it's a question of who to blame: the system, or the consultants, or the 'victims'? The 'demand' from the victims sustains the consultants, who are really just exploiting the system. The system, of course, is the cause/product of global structural inequalities. Bottomline: it's all one big mess.

On a different note: I wonder if I should ask my dad why he never got hold of that ambassador while they were still in a make-shift Candaian embassy! :D

Farah said...

If you think about it, the first step is a lie. People who are OK with lying to come to Canada should not be surprised they have been in turn lied to.

Anonymous said...

This is my first comment tho I've been reading your blog for a while, but this post feels very relevant -- my family and I are about to go to Canada to complete the immigration process after about 6 years of waiting in the pipeline.

We started the whole thing with an immigration lawyer in Chittagong back in 2001, went on with our lives and suddenly, from late last year, they fast-tracked us. The lawyers' offices in Ctg and Dhaka were reasonably helpful and diligent, I guess, if slow. But the surprising thing is their boss in Canada directly asked us for a large US dollar amount recently. This was while he had all our passports with him, stamped with our IM-1 visas. He said he was unable to return the passports without the payment. As far as we knew we weren't supposed to pay anything until we made landing in Canada, or we were supposed to pay the Bangladesh office in Taka. We had to scramble the money to make the payment, and we did get the passports.

But I don't know, this seems like underhand behaviour to me. How can well-known immigration lawyers in Canada run their business like this?

Anonymous said...

I know many pple want to immigrate to Canada but with all these *fake* consultants *springing* up, well, the little money they have saved,mind you this could be their life savings ends up in the *wrong* hands. I have heard how some pple would come in as students and then claim a refugee status, changing their names etc. There is this other thing going on too, I read it somewhere how you could *sponsor* a nanny (for a yr or so), and you fill in your information(address etc), you are paid something and you don't see that nanny. It's an agency doing that, so pple are cashing in everywhere. And these nannies actually also pay up a large sum of money to get here.
I believe that lying will get you nowhere, there's one day when you will be caught! sf

mezba said...

Rawi: I think I would blame the government for not cracking down on these fake consultants and on the immigrants who want to fake any type of story. However there needs to be some amnesty program for people who have stayed here for long periods of time and have no criminal record.

Farah: Hmm... just because they lied is no reason to let these crooked consultants go free.

Anon (9.56): wow, 6 years eh? I really don't know what to say to these crooked consultants, but at least you got your papers now, right? It does sound fishy to me.

sf: it's the chicken and egg conundrum, isn't it? If the people were not willing to lie, then these consultants wouldn't exist! Also, the government needs to crack down harder on illegal immigration.

isheeta said...

dude, i miss ur posts.



mezba said...

Isheeta: me too! Bloggers' block.

Don't feel inspired lately. Tired of this thing. Perhaps saying goodbye.