So, after a lot of thought and research, including talking to friends and relatives and those who have already made the transition, you’ve decided to immigrate to Canada. You already know that going through the process of obtaining a permanent resident visa (or even a temporary visa) can be demanding, slow and convoluted, fraught with ambiguous questions and irreversible mistakes, and you want to make it as smooth as possible. The assistance of a licensed immigration professional could be the answer.

The question now is how to find the real deal instead of one of the scam artists who prey on wannabe Canadians.

You go online and Google “immigration to Canada” or something similar, in English or in your native language. The first warning sign should be if the website lacks an English version or does not link to one: it is very easy for someone to put up a “consultant” sign and call themselves an immigration consultant, but a person providing immigration advice legally must be a regulated Canadian immigration consultant (RCIC) — a member in good standing of a Canadian regulating organization, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) — a lawyer, a member in good standing of a Canadian provincial or territorial law society, or a Chambre des notaires du Québec.  You can check if the consultant you plan to deal with is actually licensed on ICCRC’s official website:

More things to watch out for:

  • The site displays multiple logos — even those of the local business registry and Canadian Better Business Bureau — and may include a picture of a bunch of smiling people around a table, but no consultant name(s). Apart from a violation of the ICCRC advertisement rules, mandating that the names of the consultants must be clearly posted on the website, this may be a sign that the company is an immigration mill doing extensive marketing and subcontracting legitimate consultants to process applications, exerting considerable sales pressure both on them and on you. To earn a living wage at the rates these mills pay, a consultant would not be able to spend sufficient time to thoroughly prepare your application; is that really what you want?
  • The company is based outside Canada. There are myriad companies registered in various countries, allowing them to carry out legitimate business in that specific country, but these companies most likely do not employ professionals in Canadian immigration. Basically, these companies are sales people, not the people who can actually help with your application.  However, some applicants get stuck on the comforting idea that they would be able to physically go into the office and meet a human being there, despite the fact that the person has no education or licence in Canadian immigration.  Please keep in mind that the majority of Canadian immigration consultants practice from Canada; some consultants have offices in the UEA, India, China, the Philippines, or other countries, but only a fraction of consultants have offices outside Canada.  So, why not to do your due diligence and contact a legitimate consultant directly, avoiding this middle man?
  • Incorrect information (such as immigration programs and streams that were discontinued more than a year ago) is displayed on the site. Immigration is an ever-changing field, so if their website is not up to date, how can you be sure they keep abreast of all the changes with respect to their clients’ applications?
  • They promise to assist you with finding jobs with no recruitment license or list of licensed recruiters posted on the website. Remember: most provinces in Canada require a recruiter to be licensed. Also, it is illegal to charge a foreign worker a fee to find a job — the recruitment fee is always paid by the employer.
  • Posted professional fees seem too good to be true. They most likely are: see above about the immigration mills; sometimes all the work is outsourced to outside Canada, and the principals only sign off on the paperwork. Now, do you really want to maximize some company’s profit at the expense of quality and allow unlicensed, non-Canadian personnel to work on your application? And even have access to your personal and private information in a non-Canadian jurisdiction? If you remember a huge joint operation FBI anti-fraud taskforce formed recently in India against illegal call-centres targeting Americans with wide-spread scams, you know the answer already. Similarly, if someone charges $10,000 for an Express Entry application when the average runs between $3,500 and $5,000, you should also think twice about their business model.
  • Poor spelling and vocabulary: if the website has errors, what type of submission will be prepared, and what kinds of issues will there be with a submission written by a so-called specialist who doesn’t even use spell check?

Canada has a provision governed by Bill C-35 that makes it illegal for a person who is not licensed to do so to represent future immigrants and/or give immigration advice for a fee – it applies both in Canada and outside the country. Penalties for convictions under the act include fines of up to CDN$100,000 and/or imprisonment of up to two years.

As in any other area, be it finding a doctor, mechanic, plumber or hairstylist, the safest bet would be to ask those you know, or those your friends and family know in person, who have already had a successful outcome, for a recommendation. Are they happy with the result, the process, how much they paid?

After you get the names, search out these professionals online. Once you have established that they have an online history (remember — Google is your friendJ — nothing ever written online truly disappears), check their website (Most of them will have one — either their own or in association, even for the purpose of just being searchable online; some, mostly senior ones, work by referrals only, having accumulated enough business during their years in practice.).

Once you’ve read the advertisement or browsed a consultant’s website, you have to ask yourself three important questions:

  1. Is this person really who s/he claims to be?
  2. Does s/he have enough knowledge/experience to represent me (read: experience with cases similar to mine, be it economic/skilled migration, dealing with entrepreneurs, or representing for an appeal, detention review or hearing in Canada)?
  3. Will I have a clear understanding of my process?

The first question could be answered by comparing different online searches: there have been instances when scammers have spoofed reputable companies, putting entire fake versions of these websites online. In this case, a legitimate business website for the consultant might have a “beware of fraud” warning – this is a clear sign that you are in the right digital space. Sometimes consultants have their business address and e-mail posted online in other databases; do your due diligence and write to these e-mail addresses asking about a website bearing their name – whether it is legit or not. If there is no answer and you feel that you would like to deal with this person in particular because of a referral, there is a “contact” feature on the ICCRC website showing each consultant’s name that allows a prospective client to write a brief message to the consultant that will be then passed on through the ICCRC server directly to the e-mail address associated officially with that consultant’s ICCRC registration.

To have an answer to the second and third questions, if you still aren’t sure after browsing the site, you will have to get in touch with them in person – whether by e-mail or by phone. Most consultants will have a brief (up to 15-minute) chat with you or even do an initial assessment for free. Do not count on getting something for nothing, though: the goal of this communication is to obtain some initial information of your case but not to consult with you about your particular case.

Of course this all takes time, but wouldn’t you rather be safe than sorry?

This is not an exhaustive list of recommendations, but it is a starting point in your quest for a powerful and reliable engine that will move your train to this station called Canada without crashing and stopping and losing passengers.

Julia Brodyansky, RCIC