There Be Dragons: Protecting the Public from Immigration Predators


Authored by Marina L. Sedai, Senior Immigration Lawyer and Principal, Sedai Immigration Law Corporation.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada declares March of each year as “Fraud Prevention Month”. It warns to the public to avoid immigration predators; however, how is the public to do so?

This article provides a non-exhaustive list of red flags and protective actions one can take to protect themselves from predators as well as persons who might not seek to consciously defraud but engage in questionable or incompetent practices.

  1. Guarantee of a positive result or faster processing. Government officers, tribunals, and courts are independent decision-makers not under the influence of other parties. Predators commonly guarantee that the decision-maker will issue a positive result or do so at exceptional speed. Instead, ethical and competent lawyers explain the probability of success based on the strengths and weakness of the case.
  2. Non-lawyers state they are a lawyer. If a representative says they are a lawyer but they are not listed with their provincial/territorial law society then they are not a Canadian lawyer and are likely a predator. [1] Most provinces and territories have lawyers listed on their webpages. Law societies have made many orders prohibiting non-lawyers from calling themselves lawyers.[2]
  3. Non-lawyers imply they are a lawyer. If a representative does not specifically state that they are in a non-lawyer role but their website language, advertising category, or other vague language could mislead the public as to their qualifications then consider whether they might be a predator.
  4. “I know more than a lawyer” is a common assertion amongst predators who do not want to lose prey to competent and ethical Canadian immigration lawyers.
  5. Discourage a second opinion. A few hundred dollars getting second or third opinions could save you from immigration disaster and/or spending many thousands of dollars and alert you that the first person with who you spoke might be a predator.
  6. Pushes to participate in your consultation with a lawyer. Your representative on your refused application insists on attending your consultation with a lawyer for a second opinion or advice on an appeal or judicial review. You and the lawyer should refuse because if that representative did something wrong on your refused application or appears to be a predator, you must be free to discuss that.
  7. Illegal charges to foreign workers. Predators often charge their foreign worker client for getting them a job[3] and for the fees and costs associated with an employer’s application, such as Labour Market Impact Assessments or the Online Offer of Employment for LMIA-exempt work permits.[4]
  8. Conflicts of interest. A predator might engage in conflicts of interest, where their judgement or actions are influence by their self-interest or one client’s interests over another client’s.
  9. Legal but questionable competing interest. Canadian immigration lawyers largely consider the legal practice of acting as a representative on a study permit application and also receiving a commission for referring an international student to an educational institution to be a questionable practice.
  10. Exorbitant fees. Fees that are many times higher than what competent and experienced counsel charge. For example, lawyers regularly report that they have had consultations with persons who were charged $30,000 to $130,000 or more in legal fees for skilled worker nominee applications and LMIAs by non-lawyers who would have charged a small fraction of the amounts charged by non-lawyers.
  11. Unusually low fees. Unless the legal representative is taking you as a pro bono or low bono client, you might be paying for a lower quality services. It can be a signal that they having support staff do all the work with inadequate supervision and little or no representative analysis and input.
  12. Invoicing before services rendered. Retainers to trust accounts upfront are normal practice. However, invoicing you large amounts before the work is performed is unacceptable. Services should be provided in part or whole first and then you should be invoiced for fee commensurate with the amount of work done.[5]
  13. Representative is inaccessible and you only deal with support staff or “agents”[6] and find that they are giving you legal advice (i.e., advice on what to do in your situation).
  14. No detailed retainer agreement. It is best practice to have a retainer or engagement agreement that details the terms of the lawyer-client relationship and costs. You can take the agreement to another lawyer to be reviewed and/or rely on it if a disagreement were to arise.
  15. Non-disclosure agreement. Some predators will attempt to deprive you of your right to obtain another legal opinion, have your agreement with the representative reviewed, or report unethical practices or fraud to the police, practitioner’s regulator, or the government.
  16. Ghosts. Refusal to identify themselves as your representative or advisor on your self-represented application is illegal and unethical. If you have a representative, an IMM 5476 Use of a Representative must be included; if you have an advisor who is not representing you, then they need to provide specific identifiers to you to include in the application that you submit.[7] If you do not, IRCC can find misrepresentation and bar you from Canada for five years, such as in Brefo Canada where IRCC found an applicant misrepresented by using and not declaring an unauthorized representative.[8]
  17. Website transparency. Is it clear who the representative is? This is not an absolute red flag because there might be an innocent explanation. However, predators often ensure that no information about themselves is on their website or do not have a website.
  18. You do not know what is in your application. It is common for predators to not provide you with the opportunity to review your application and comment before it is submitted.
  19. You are deprived of documents. You should be given a perfect copy of what was submitted and you should be promptly provided with all communications to and from the government.
  20. Professionalism. a) Generic emails (e.g., gmail, hotmail, yahoo instead of their own business domain name), b) unprofessional office, dress, demeanour, and C) writing errors: bad grammar, formatting, excessive errors in applications, and other indicators of a lack of care and conscientiousness.


[2] Examples:


[4] Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (SOR/2002-227) s.209.2(1)(a)(ix-x)




[8] Brefo v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2020 FC 815 (CanLII),

Become a member now!

Join a growing community of Canadian immigration lawyers, academics and law students.

Our Latest Articles