Bill impacts international students

A federal bill aimed at “crooked consultants” has had an unexpected impact on universities and colleges across the country.

Bill C-35 stipulates that only federally registered and certified immigration consultants are allowed to give immigration advice. The stated purpose of the law is to crack down on illegitimate operators who were defrauding Canadian immigrants.

Looking at the background and rationale of the bill, many universities and colleges, including Mount Allison, initially assumed the legislation would not affect their services. However, this spring, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) sent out a notice stating that the legislation also applied to university advisors.

“Anyone who is not a certified immigration consultant cannot offer any kind of immigration advice,” said Christa Maston, Mt. A’s international advisor. Due to Bill C-35, she can no longer answer routine immigration questions herself, but instead must direct students to CIC resources. Students also have the option of working with privately-certified immigration consultants, although most would charge substantial fees. The international centre at Mt. A is not aware of any certified officers in Sackville.

Mt. A Vice-President, International and Student Affairs Ron Byrne said, “I think the bill, as it’s currently being implemented, is a sledgehammer trying to kill a fly.”

Universities are no longer able to advise international students on their immigration options after graduation. Maston raised the point that this could have a negative impact on provinces, and Canada as a whole, if the process is more cumbersome than it is accommodating.

Both Maston and Byrne raised concerns about CIC’s preparedness to deal with a massive increase in questions from international students.

“It runs the risk of being impersonal […] and extremely inefficient for the students involved,” said Byrne.

Maston also noted the bill’s ambiguities. At the moment it is not clear what advising means. For instance, the university is still legally able to provide translation services, and can presumably help students understand the wording of immigration documents.

The certification process is extensive, and expensive. It takes nearly eight months, and to remain certified costs $1,700 a year. The program also covers all aspects of immigration law, such as family class, business class, and other issues that are not necessarily relevant to the demands of international students.

While some schools with higher numbers of international student have taken steps to certify staff, this option has not yet been pursued at Mt. A. Byrne noted that the school is looking at a wide variety of options, such as cooperating with regional partner institutions.

University associations such as the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (AUCC) and the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE) initially lobbied the government for exemption from the act. After those efforts fell on deaf ears, they have continued to argue for a revision. Mt. A is a member of both organizations and supports their efforts.

Byrne, who sits on the board of the CBIE, was enthusiastic about that organization’s recent proposal to the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration that “there be a specific abridged and tailored certification process for education advising.”

The ministry has not yet responded to that proposal.

“We’re all having to react as if we’ve had a culture within Canada’s public colleges and universities of misleading and or gauging students for immigration fees and immigration advice […] when to my knowledge, nothing could be further from the truth,” said Byrne.

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