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Why do I need immigration counsel?

|Written By Jennifer Nees
Why do I need immigration counsel?

Immigration reform seems to be everyone’s favourite political buzz phrase right now. While here in Canada we don’t have anything as gossip-inducing as the recent passing of immigration laws in Arizona criminalizing non-documented workers, there are a number of interesting and far-reaching changes to the immigration system in the works.

Immigration issues are in the news all the time, both in the local news and internationally as a hotbed issue. In Canada, most of us are touched in some way by immigration matters, whether it’s a personal spousal sponsorship or adoption, a business need, or a family or friend’s personal journey.

As a lawyer whose own practice extends from corporate immigration to personal spousal sponsorships, I am often asked the question, “Why do I need a lawyer for this?”

The short answer, and the honest one I always tell potential clients is, legislatively you don’t. The law does not require that an individual hire an immigration lawyer to get through the process, which is no different than real estate, family, or any other area of law.

However, when faced with an inherently legal process, how comfortable will you be in making certain that you a) navigated the process effectively and b) can deal with the repercussions of a mistake including additional cost, time delays, and possible bars on re-entry.

Most people, particularly corporations sending executives and senior staff across international borders, are not able to meet the requirement of (a) and do not want to face (b).

Making certain that immigration laws are met, expectations are managed, and costly delays are avoided is the cornerstone of any solicitor’s practice. Exploring options and developing strategic plans with clients is why a lawyer is necessary to the process.

As with other areas of law, for the most part, it’s not in and of itself complicated neurosurgery, but there are nuances and subtleties that must be evaluated in every situation. Where this may not be as necessary for the individual who is sponsoring her husband from overseas (though in today’s ever-changing policy world, I would argue it’s more necessary than ever), evaluating all the options is necessary for the corporate or in-house individual who is tasked with overseeing the cross-border transfer of an executive.

Now, with complicated immigration changes both north and south of the border and potentially stiff consequences for non-compliance, the time has come to ensure that solicitor-based disciplines continue to be led by trained lawyers who are well versed with the process in question.

In fact, in the last month, I have received several calls from individuals at companies who had attempted work permit applications on their own for different company employees, only to be refused at the port of entry. Often these applications can be saved, but in one case, the individual had done such a bad job of expressing the needs of the business and his individual job that there was no solution other than to go a far more circuitous and costly route.

The company lost time, money, and some credibility at the port of entry all for “following instructions” that seemed clear on Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s web site.

The bottom line is that not everyone needs a lawyer. It’s true. But for the vast majority of non-practitioners in a corporate environment, experienced counsel is not only necessary but the only responsible option in the continually evolving immigration system.

Jennifer Nees is a senior associate at business immigration boutique firm, the Bomza Law Group. She can be reached at jnees@bomzalawgroup.com.

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