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University officers can resume providing immigration advice to foreign students

Pact reached with regulatory body creates a new certification stream for international student advisers.

BY ROSANNA TAMBURRI | SEP 16 2015

Universities and other educational institutions have reached a pact with the federal regulatory body that certifies immigration consultants to create a new certification stream and training program specifically tailored to the needs of international student advisers at these institutions.

The agreement will allow international student officers, once they’re fully licensed, to resume providing immigration advice to foreign students. “It’s very good news for our members,” said Gail Bowkett, director of research, policy and international relations at Universities Canada. “They are looking forward to having this program up and running so that their international student advisers can get the appropriate licence.”

Universities Canada worked with other members of the Canadian Consortium for International Education to reach an agreement with the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, or ICCRC, the federal body that regulates the training, licensing and practices of immigration consultants. The other consortium members are the Canadian Bureau for International Education; Colleges and Institutes Canada; Languages Canada; and the Canadian Association of Public Schools – International.

Student advisers who work with prospective international students and who aren’t certified members of ICCRC have been prohibited from providing immigration advice to foreign students since May 2013 due to earlier changes to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The legislative changes made it an offence for anyone other than an “authorized representative” to provide immigration advice for a fee. Authorized representatives include lawyers, paralegals and immigration consultants certified by ICCRC.  The changes were introduced to crack down on the fraudulent practices of some immigration consultants, and it was unclear initially whether the rules would apply to international student advisers employed at universities, colleges and other institutions.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada advised educational institutions two years ago that they needed to comply with the new rules. The decision meant that foreign student officers without ICCRC certification could no longer advise students about immigration options, help them complete immigration forms, and communicate with the federal immigration officials on their behalf, all things they had done routinely in the past.

The change was disruptive for universities and international students. To comply with the new regulations, some of the larger universities opted to have their foreign student advisers complete the training required for certification. But the length of the program and the fees made it prohibitive for many institutions to do so. Some hired outside certified consultants to provide immigration advice while others referred students to independent immigration lawyers and consultants.

“It has created a lot of angst” for institutions, said Jennifer Humphries, vice-president of membership, public policy and communications at the Canadian Bureau for International Education. She said the new program, to be developed by CBIE, will be more streamlined and will ensure that foreign student advisers are able to resume delivering “the types of great services” they did prior to 2013.

CBIE will offer the program online in English and in French, and participants will be able to complete it at their own pace. It will cover federal and provincial immigration policies and rules that pertain to foreign students rather than the full gamut of immigration issues covered by ICCRC’s program for general immigration consultants. It is expected to be much shorter than the full program, which can take up to 10 or 11 months to complete, Ms. Humphries said. A fee hasn’t been set yet but Ms. Humphries said CBIE recognizes that cost is a major concern for institutions and is aiming to make it “as affordable as possible.”

The agency plans to start offering the program later this year, once it has been accredited by the regulatory council. Those who complete the program and pass the ICCRC exam will become Regulated International Student Immigration Advisers, a new professional designation conferred by ICCRC.

Also, a one-time option for experienced advisers with at least three years of work experience is to take an exam that the regulatory body plans to hold in November for those who haven’t completed the training program. This option will be offered just once, Ms. Humphries said, and after that all international student advisers will need to complete the training before taking the exam to gain certification.

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  1. Mark Holthe, Canadian Immigration Lawyer / September 16, 2015 at 11:24

    I think this is a wonderful development. It never made sense to me that an international student adviser within a Canadian educational institution would not be able to grant assistance to their international students. In all fairness, many of these advisers know more about the inner workings of the study permit process than most immigration consultants and lawyers. I am happy to see that an accommodation has been made to allow for this modified stream for certification.

    When Bill C-35 came into effect on June 30, 2011, it created a new offence prohibiting anyone from providing advice to someone for a fee regarding their Canadian immigration matters without being a registered immigration consultant or lawyer. This extended to advising persons for consideration—or offering to do so—at all stages of an application, including before the application had been made. I could never figure out the logic behind stretching this regulation to an international student adviser who was receiving compensation indirectly through wages paid by a University when the percentage of time actually spent on immigration matters likely did not exceed 25% of their job duties.

    Regardless, this is a great result and I’m sure this will allow many colleges and universities the reassurance they need to know that they can now continue forward doing what they do best.

  2. Dave Sage, RCIC / September 16, 2015 at 16:53

    “The changes were introduced to crack down on the fraudulent practices of some immigration consultants, and it was unclear initially whether the rules would apply to international student advisers employed at universities, colleges and other institutions.” What was so unclear about the decision to include international student advisers under Section 91?

    Section 91 was not just a punitive measure against ghost consultants. It was created to protect the clients – vulnerable foreign nationals and permanent residents among them – and to raise the bar for what constituted sound, ethical, informed advice.

    This article mischaracterizes the debate to suggest that something rightful was taken away from the counselling staff of these schools and that they were unfairly hamstrung by bureaucratic red tape.

    As someone who used to work in such advisory jobs and has now taken the steps to becoming regulated, I look back at my dangerous lack of knowledge at the time and cringe. Now at least their will be training, regulation, and – in my sincerest hopes – a deeper appreciation of Canadian immigration law and the consequences of giving poor counsel, no matter how well-meaning it may seem at the time.

    A very good development, it must be said.