Ashton College expands training for immigration practitioners in response to tougher rules

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      Two decades ago, anyone could open an office in Vancouver and call themselves an immigration consultant. Ron McKay remembers those days: he had returned from Japan, where he processed immigration applicants for the Canadian government, and was hired to offer immigration-consultation services with a local law firm.

      McKay, director of immigration-practitioner programs at Ashton College, became the first president of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants and, more recently, has served as a director and chair of the profession’s professional regulatory body.

      And over the years, he’s seen the educational requirements sharply increase for anyone hoping to become a regulated Canadian immigration consultant (RCIC). McKay told the Straight by phone that initially an applicant needed 140 hours of training. Then it was boosted to 320 hours, and recently it went up to 500 hours.

      McKay said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council increases the national standard beyond 500 hours for RCICs “in the not too distant future”.

      “I believe the next step is probably a one-year full-time program,” he stated.

      The regulatory body requires RCICs to complete 16 hours of continuing professional development each year. Ashton College helps them meet this obligation through seminars and courses.

      This year marks the 20th anniversary of Ashton College and the 10th anniversary of its immigration-consultant training program.

      Ashton College's Vancouver campus is on Melville Street.

      Ashton will train RCIC's assistants

      According to McKay, a wide variety of people are choosing to enter the profession.

      Many are immigrants with an interest in the subject or they want to learn how to do the paperwork to bring family members to Canada. Others were professionals in their home country, including some lawyers, who don’t have the time to gain professional credentials in their field in Canada. They opt instead to become immigration consultants.

      Then there are human-resource professionals who recognize that an understanding of the immigration system enables them to help foreign nationals work in Canada. Parliamentary assistants have also gone through the program at Ashton College.

      “I’ve been told that at a lot of the MPs’ constituency offices, 70 percent of their work can be dealing with immigrants to Canada,” McKay said.

      Early next year, Ashton College plans to launch a 240-hour Legal Immigration Assistant Certificate program. According to McKay, graduates would assist RCICs and lawyers by completing applicants’ forms.

      They could use this training as a ladder to become an immigration consultant in the future. That's because course credits could be applied to the 500 hours of training required to become an RCIC. These hours can be completed online or at campuses in Vancouver and Abbotsford.

      The full-time option includes four hours of classes, five days a week, from Monday to Friday. Students do their assignments later in the day.

      Part-time students might attend two evenings a week and perhaps even a Saturday morning, according to McKay. This takes longer to complete but it won’t interfere with a student’s day-to-day employment.

      After completing the program, students must write a three-hour, 100-question multiple-choice test to assess their understanding of all aspects of immigration. They also have to meet a language requirement and provide police clearances to become an RCIC.

      Consultants can specialize in certain areas

      In the future, McKay expects to see more specialization among licensed immigration consultants. For example, some might want to focus on temporary immigration for visitors, students, and workers. Other RCICs might devote themselves to assisting immigrants in the family class, including parents, grandparents, spouses, and common-law partners.

      McKay said there are people who work for schools whose specialty is helping students come to Canada on visas. He envisions a day when licensed immigration consultants will specialize in litigation so they can represent clients before the Immigration and Refugee Board.

      To address the various immigration streams, Ashton College offers different modules that enhance students’ understanding.

      In the meantime, McKay said, the federal government has automated its systems so that there are fewer face-to-face interviews in foreign countries than when he was processing applications in Japan. This can make some prospective immigrants more likely to hire RCICs to navigate through the process.

      “Once you get into that automation, mistakes are made,” McKay said. “And applications are rejected.”

      Two years ago, the regulatory body allowed RCICs to assist people with their citizenship applications.

      It’s one more reason why McKay expects that the demand for licensed immigration consultants’ services will remain high for the foreseeable future.