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Do you need to hire a lawyer or representative for your immigration application?

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Do you need to hire a lawyer or representative for your immigration application?

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will often tell people that they do not need to hire a lawyer or consultant in order to immigrate to Canada. They are right.

In 2018, IRCC approved 191,337 applications for permanent residence. Of these, 7,334 were represented by a lawyer, 11,262 by a regulated consultant, 52,066 by a family member or friend, and 191,337 had no representative.

IRCC in 2018 also approved 17,678 temporary residence applications in which there was a lawyer as representative, 17,554 in which there was a regulated consultant, 258,802 in which the representative was a family member or a friend, and 2,448,311 in which the person was unrepresented.

While the above statistics do not show approval rates or refusals, which are not publicly available, and it is possible that there is a prevalence of ghost representation that is not reflected in the statistics, the approval figures certainly demonstrate that it is not necessary to hire a representative to immigrate to Canada.

Do you need a lawyer?
When someone asks whether they need a representative in their application I typically tell them to review the IRCC website, forms and document checklists and to then decide whether they are comfortable submitting an application on their own. If they are not, then they should hire a representative, or at least schedule a consultation with one to discuss what is causing them to be uncomfortable.

For those individuals who are more or less comfortable with the material on the IRCC website, the decision of whether to hire a representative is a cost-benefit analysis.

The cost is usually the professional fee. And if they hire an incompetent or unscrupulous representative it can also be an increased likelihood of refusal or a future misrepresentation issue, should they have listened to a recommendation to lie in their application.

The benefits of hiring a representative can include reduced stress, less time spent researching the IRCC website and, possibly and depending on the circumstances, an increased likelihood of the application being both complete and approved.

The weight assigned to the costs and benefits is a personal decision that each individual will have to make.

Who to hire?
There is a seemingly never-ending debate in marketing materials, on social media and in submissions to government as to whether it is better to hire a lawyer or a consultant. It is a debate that I find uninteresting and do not participate in. This is because when you hire a lawyer or consultant you are not hiring a profession, but an individual.

The best way to determine if the individual that you are considering hiring is competent would be to spend some time researching the area of immigration law that you are seeking representation in, and then to ask your prospective representative pointed questions.

You will quickly discover whether their representation would be helpful, or if you in fact know more than they do.

The recommendations of friends and other trusted individuals can also be helpful.

Flashy website testimonials, Google reviews and “Who’s Who” lists are, in my opinion, less useful as they can be manipulated. Some firms offer discounts in exchange for positive reviews and many of the lists simply reflect who paid for them. These kinds of practices do not always happen, but it has made me somewhat skeptical of the whole online review and list process.

Tips for the self-represented
If you are going to submit an application on your own, here are five key tips to avoid having your application rejected or possible misrepresentation issues down the road.

1. Based on Access to Information results, it seems like 10 per cent of Express Entry applications are rejected for incompleteness, as are 20 per cent of Family Class applications. It is imperative that you review checklists very carefully and double check your application.
2. A mistake that people often make is declaring that they are “single” when they are in fact common law. The definition of common law in the immigration context is broader than other areas of law and encompasses any scenario where someone has cohabited in a conjugal partnership for one year or more. Declaring that one is single when they are in fact common law constitutes misrepresentation.
3. It is necessary to disclose dismissed charges, arrests, etc., in an application even if they did not lead to a conviction. The failure to do so also constitutes misrepresentation.
4. One of the most common reasons for a misrepresentation finding is that someone did not disclose a refusal to another country, typically the United States.
5. Remember that the onus is on you to demonstrate your purpose of visit, that you meet program requirements, etc. People often assume that IRCC will provide them with the opportunity to address any mistakes or shortcomings in their application. There is generally no such obligation.

As the above should demonstrate, immigration law can be complicated and confusing. The statistics show, however, that this does not mean that you must have a representative.

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