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The difference between an immigration lawyer and a consultant

Canada passport with money. Stock photo by Getty Images

Immigration to Canada can be a long, costly and potentially confusing process. While it’s certainly possible to complete the process yourself, you may want professional help to navigate the system and avoid any mistakes that could compromise your application.

The most common choices are either a lawyer or an immigration consultant. The government considers them “authorized representatives,” meaning they can accept fees for their services. Under Canadian law, anyone taking payment for immigration assistance must be an accredited professional.

You can also enlist help from friends, family or a religious group, for example, as long as they are not being paid.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada refuses to deal with non-authorized representatives who accept fees.

Using a representative won’t speed up the immigration process or give your application any special consideration.

How are they different?

Both lawyers and consultants can provide similar services and can vary in terms of expertise and cost.

Consultants will typically undergo less schooling than a lawyer. Consultant certificates can be obtained online or in as little as six months, depending on the school, whereas a law degree is more intensive, taking several years. Given that, lawyers can often be more expensive.

A consultant may also have more experience since they focus entirely on immigration, but many lawyers have several specialties, immigration being just one. There are some firms and lawyers that concentrate specifically on immigration.

The main difference between the two is that only a lawyer can represent you in federal court if your application is rejected and you wish to appeal the decision. Consultants cannot represent you in court.

The consultant industry has come under great scrutiny in recent years due to great numbers of unlicensed or outright fraudulent operators setting up a business and botching applications or simply taking money and disappearing.

The problem was so widespread that in 2011 the government passed a bill initially called the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act (later renamed the Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act). It imposes stiff penalties on unlicensed immigration consultants and created a regulatory body to govern the industry.

Consultants are now overseen by the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, which lays out a code of conduct and handles complaints and discipline. Provincial and territorial law societies perform a similar role for lawyers.


Read more:

Citizenship and Immigration Canada

Choosing an immigration representative

Find out if your representative is authorized

Verify your immigration consultant