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Giving options without scaring off business is tricky

The Immigration Line
|Written By Jennifer Nees
Giving options without scaring off business is tricky

In law, as in most things, sweeping changes cause serious consternation. This unease isn’t just for clients, however. Lawyers also face considerable challenges when facing regulatory changes.

Immigration, as I have previously written, is experiencing a number of just such changes in the coming year. In our firm, we have been consulting with our clients regarding these changes, making recommendations for how to proceed, and offering suggestions on auditing files, etc. as a means of knowing where the company currently sits with its immigration matters and how the new changes are most likely to affect them.

Clients are nervous, but I find a client’s response is directly in proportion to my response. I am sure this is true across the board. Clients take their guidance and direction from their lawyer’s words and actions.

At the recent 18th Annual Immigration Law Summit held by the Law Society of Upper Canada, several lawyers focused their discussions on the new regulations and how they may affect our clients. This was informative and useful, and for the most part, the presentations were well focused and presented.

But underneath it all, there appears to be such an unbridled skepticism of these new rules. Fair enough, regulatory changes as broad and unclear as these do pose a number of unknowns for both practitioners and clients. However, and this may be a bit naive of me, I do believe these changes are well-intentioned. When presenting them to clients, I have stressed this part, while underlying the absolute necessity of perfect compliance and foreknowledge of any potential issues.

Clients hire us for direction and guidance. They want options and answers, whether practical or not, and want to be able to see how these options enhance or detract from their business. Immigration is the same as any other field in this regard. And the stakes are high. What is our obligation?

In the recent Alberta Provincial Court case, Romans v. Howlund International Corp., the court held that lawyers have a duty to advise their clients of all potential options that may affect their case, even if those options seem remote.

Why is this relevant? Because right now, as mentioned, clients are being subjected to extreme uncertainty and regulatory changes that are, by Citizenship and Immigration’s own admission, still without posted guidance.

How can clients be advised of all potential immigration options and ramifications when the government has not yet informed us of the shape and scope of the new regulatory changes? How can we, or any lawyer in a similar situation, practise due diligence in murky waters?

My answer has been to provide best and worst case scenarios to my corporate clients. To explain the possible ramifications, the likely intent of the rules, the potential pitfalls, and the effect they can have for good or ill on their corporate business practice.

I have listened to learned colleagues give their opinions on these issues, and have used those opinions to shape my own. My personal opinion is that the rules make sense for those they were intended to catch: employers of low-skilled workers who exploit the foreign worker. They are too broad and will likely become difficult to apply to corporations bringing in highly skilled workers.

At the end of the day, we are here to interpret the rules and disseminate the information. As the practice takes shape, our own certainty will grow and the skepticism while either flourish or diminish based on the government’s actions. Throughout this, our clients will see a strong bar that is actively seeking answers and solutions.

Jennifer Nees is chairwoman of the Canadian chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and a senior associate at business immigration boutique firm, the Bomza Law Group. She can be reached at