Purpose of the Evaluation
This report presents the results of the evaluation of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), the body designated under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) to govern the immigration consultant industry. The evaluation was conducted in fulfillment of requirements under the Financial Administration Act and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) Policy on Evaluation (2009), as well as a commitment to report on the activities of the organization by December 2013. As the ICCRC was recently established, this evaluation will be useful in identifying areas where the organization needs to further increase its capacity. The data collection for this evaluation was undertaken by the Research and Evaluation Branch, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC), between January and April, 2013, with an updated assessment on the financial data completed in February 2014.
Background on the ICCRC
Bill C-35, An Act to Amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (formerly called the Cracking Down on Crooked Consultants Act) received Royal Assent on March 23, 2011 and came into force on June 30, 2011. The Bill made the changes to Sections 13.1 and 13.2 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR), as well as provided authorization under IRPA for the Minister to designate a body to be responsible for governing immigration consultants. The Bill makes it an offense for anyone other than an authorized representative to provide immigration advice (including prior to the submission of an application) or represent clients on immigration matters and receive direct or indirect compensation for it. The Bill also requires that body to provide information sufficient to allow the Minister to evaluate whether the designated body governs its members in a manner that is in the public interest, so that they provide professional and ethical representation and advice.
Following the passage of Bill C-35, CIC requested submissions from candidates interested in becoming the regulator of immigration consultants. The request called for candidate entries to demonstrate that they would be able to effectively regulate immigration consulting activities in the public interest, thereby enhancing public confidence in the immigration process and preserving the integrity of the immigration system.
As a result of this competitive process, the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC) was selected, replacing the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC) as the body responsible for the regulation of Canadian immigration consultants. To support the creation of this arms-length governing body, CIC established a Contribution in Support of the Regulation of Immigration Consultants. Under this program, CIC and the ICCRC signed a $1M contribution agreement. The purpose of this Agreement was for CIC to provide funding, in the form of a repayable contribution, for the start-up and operating costs of the governing body, and through evaluation and monitoring, to ensure financial accountability and performance of the organization as per its obligations of the Agreement. The full amount of the contribution will be repaid by the ICCRC to the Government of Canada with its revenues.
The evaluation approach and methodology were set out in an evaluation plan developed prior to the commencement of the evaluation. This planning phase was undertaken from October to January, 2012-13, and was conducted in consultation with all CIC Branches involved in the regulation of immigration consultants, as well with the ICCRC. The evaluation is aligned with the risk-based Departmental Evaluation Plan, which was developed in part based on assurance mapping that provides senior management with information on the ways in which the department ensures appropriate oversight of programs, based on level of risk.
The primary purpose of the evaluation was to examine the extent to which the ICCRC had implemented activities in the areas of capacity building, communications, competencies and compliance, as outlined in the contribution agreement with CIC, as well as the achievement of expected immediate outcomes. The expected immediate outcomes examined are as follows:
- ICCRC is a viable, transparent, accountable, and well-managed organization;
- Stakeholder groups have information on the immigration consulting sector, including accreditation, potential of fraud, and recourse mechanisms;
- Members receive accreditation and professional development opportunities to continually develop their competencies and qualifications; and
- Fair, transparent and accessible complaint and discipline mechanisms are established.
The evaluation examined activities of the ICCRC since it was established in June 2011 up to December 2012. The activities of the past regulator, the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants (CSIC), were not included in the scope of this evaluation. In addition, as the evaluation focused on the activities of the ICCRC, the evaluation did not explore the issue of unauthorized representatives in depth.
This evaluation included four lines of evidence, including both qualitative and quantitative methods, drawing upon both primary and secondary data sources:
- A review of documents and secondary sources;
- An analysis of administrative and financial data;
- Interviews and site visits with key informants; and
- A survey of ICCRC members.
Additional input was gathered from missions, through case studies conducted for other evaluation projects.
Although the evaluation contained a balance of qualitative and quantitative lines of evidence, there were four limitations that should be considered when reading the report:
- There was limited administrative data available to analyse and determine trends related to the use of immigration consultants; only 2012 data on applications was available to inform the evaluation on this aspect.
- As the ICCRC was set up as an arms-length body, interviewees outside of the organization were somewhat limited in their ability to comment in detail on how the ICCRC has operated;
- The perspective of the missions, and those who process immigration applications, was not built into the evaluation as a distinct line of evidence; and
- Respondents to the ICCRC member survey differed somewhat from the full population of ICCRC members – grandfathered members were under-represented, and members with less experience in immigration consulting were over-represented among the respondents.
Recognizing that these limitations exist, it is equally important to note that they have not significantly influenced the findings, conclusions, or recommendations put forward in this evaluation.
- The industry was regulated to protect consumers; to reduce incidence of fraud, unethical behaviour, and misrepresentation; and to establish standards for the profession. As such, there was a need to put a body in place to regulate the industry.
- The objectives of the regulation regarding representation or advice align with federal obligations and Government of Canada and CIC priorities related to reducing fraud and protecting the integrity of the immigration system and potential applicants.
- Appropriate governance and management structures were put in place within CIC and between CIC and the ICCRC, and evolved as needed over time to become more arms-length as the ICCRC matured. There are also processes in place within CIC, which are documented in operational manuals, to validate the use of authorized representatives and for CIC to file complaints. However, there is some indication that there is a lack of clarity on these processes and that they are not being applied consistently by CIC staff.
- The evaluation found that the ICCRC put in place most of the elements of the management structure, as per its contribution agreement with CIC and that the ICCRC is a well-managed, transparent and accountable organization. Financial viability had not been achieved as of December 2013 and the financial situation of the organization remained unfavourable. Footnote 1 However, ICCRC’s financial situation has steadily been improving and it has started repaying the contribution to CIC.
- The ICCRC has undertaken communications activities as planned, adequately informed members about the organization’s processes, and members were satisfied with the information provided. There are opportunities for the ICCRC to enhance external communications by increasing outreach to the public and stakeholder groups as well as improving its website.
- Initially, CIC's communications activities focused more on ‘crooked’ consultants rather than promoting the use of authorized representatives, which stakeholders feel had a negative impact on how the industry is perceived. As a result, it was expressed by interviewees that there is a need for CIC and the ICCRC to coordinate communication efforts.
- The ICCRC implemented the competency activities related to granting certification and offering professional development opportunities to members as planned and as a result, there are processes in place for members to receive certification and to participate in professional development opportunities. Stakeholders consider the certification process appropriate and ICCRC members are positive about the professional development opportunities provided.
- The ICCRC has put an appropriate complaints and discipline process in place, which is viewed as fair, accessible, and independent by interviewees and ICCRC members. However, the complaints and discipline process was slow to be established and the ICCRC has no jurisdiction over complaints against unauthorized representatives that it refers to other organizations (i.e., the CBSA and the RCMP), which has led to the perception that little is being done as a result of the complaints. In addition, the implementation of the member audit process was delayed but is now in process and the compensation fund to compensate the public in cases of member malpractice will not be established due to the large cost involved.
Performance (resource utilization)
- Although the ICCRC spent more than originally budgeted, the evaluation found that the ICCRC was able to mainly achieve what was planned as per the outputs identified in the contribution agreement.
Conclusions and recommendations
Over the course of its first year and a half of operations, the ICCRC had successfully established itself as an arms-length organization that regulates immigration consultants. Although spending more than originally anticipated over this time period, the ICCRC was able to undertake the majority of the activities outlined in the contribution agreement in the four areas of capacity building, communications, competencies, and compliance and was able to operate without requiring additional funding from CIC above what was agreed to at the outset. The assessment of these four areas of activity showed no major issues and, overall, the evaluation found the organization has established the foundations required to regulate immigration consultants. In addition, the financial analysis conducted by CIC’s Financial Management Branch shows that financial viability had not been achieved as of December 2013 and the financial situation of the organization remained unfavourable according to the department’s standards. However, ICCRC’s financial situation has steadily been improving and it has started repaying the contribution to CIC, as per the negotiated schedule.
Recognizing that the ICCRC is a young organization that is still developing its capacity, there is room for improvement on certain aspects.
- While the foundations of ICCRC’s governance and management structure have been established, the organization still needs to finalize its internal policies and procedures.
- The organization also has to continue to monitor spending and maintain a strong membership base to ensure ongoing financial viability.
- The ICCRC needs to improve its website and continue its work on external communications to ensure that its mandate and activities are clearly communicated to stakeholders (e.g., public, potential applicants, CIC).
- Where possible, the ICCRC needs to provide more information to its various stakeholders, including the public, on how it handles complaints and the disciplinary actions taken.
- The ICCRC should proactively engage in discussions with CIC regarding any originally planned activities agreed upon in the Contribution Agreement that are still outstanding, e.g., compensation fund.
CIC was involved with the organization by providing support during its establishment and ongoing operation, both in the form of operational guidance and financial support. Overall, CIC and the ICCRC were successful in establishing a good working relationship and CIC provided adequate support during the creation of the organization. The relationship between the ICCRC and CIC is now more arms-length with the CIC role limited to monitoring the repayments from the ICCRC and liaising with the organization on an as needed basis on matters of mutual interest. From an internal perspective, the evaluation identified a few issues that CIC should address to ensure that the department is working only with authorized representatives (including members of the ICCRC) and that stakeholders, both internal and external to CIC, are sufficiently informed about the regulatory body and the use of authorized consultants.
Recommendation #1: CIC should ensure that staff processing immigration applications have a common understanding of the regulations, the role of the regulatory body, and the processes for CIC to validate the use of authorized representatives and to file complaints regarding authorized and unauthorized representatives. This should be done by:
- Clarifying the process for how CIC validates the use of authorized representatives and for how complaints should be filed;
- Updating the relevant manuals (e.g., IP9) in a timely manner to reflect any changes to these processes;
- Issuing operational bulletins in a timely manner to ensure processing centres and visa offices are aware of any changes to the processes; and
- Updating relevant training material and/or courses to ensure that they include information on the regulations, the use of authorized representatives, the role of the ICCRC as the regulatory body, and the process in place within CIC for validating authorized representatives and for filing complaints.
Recommendation #2: CIC should establish a communication strategy to raise public awareness regarding authorized representatives. This strategy should ensure that stakeholders (e.g., the public and potential applicants) understand the role of immigration consultants and that an authorized representative must be used if applicants choose to be represented.
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