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.