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For many immigrants and their families, coming to Canada is a major step towards their dream of a better life. Despite what outsiders to the immigration industry may think, it is no simple task getting all the information and applications together to apply to come to Canada or stay in the country once it has been experienced. There are many people involved in the process and a lot of paperwork.
Applying to immigrate to Canada can be done one of two ways, the first is when an unpaid representative (like a friend or family member) completes the application package on behalf of the applicant. In these cases, despite the best intentions, an application may end up having their application refused because of a simple error or document missed. For those who fear having going through the refusal process due to a mistake, it makes sense to go the second route.
The second option is to hire a licenced immigration consultant, lawyer, notary, paralegal or student at law to complete the application package. Licenced immigration consultants have taken immigration courses and have immigration certification to work specifically in the field – in fact, an immigration consultant only works on immigrant and is specifically trained to do so. In many cases, all of these professionals will have help to communicate with the applicant, complete documentation, provide double-checking and ensure other details are in place. This important support position is often filled by an immigration legal assistant.
By taking an Immigration Legal Assistant program, those interested in the industry can establish a platform for a long-term career or create a starting point to many exciting related careers involved in both the immigration and legal fields.
As an immigration legal assistant, it’s possible to help those from other countries, and those currently in Canada on temporary status, get started on fulfilling what may be a life-long dream. It’s a fast-paced role filled with human interaction, time-management demands and technical skills that can be acquired through immigration training courses. These courses not only set the student up to be an immigration legal assistant, they also provide a wealth of information about the immigration process.
While the role is both demanding and challenging in terms of managing a number of potential immigrant applications at varying stages at one time, courses are suitable for a wide range of students. The program is great for those with at least one year of post-secondary education who want to use their interpersonal and time-management skills to help others come to Canada (or stay here) while helping the professionals who orchestrate the process. It is also ideal for those already experienced as an administrative assistant or involved in the legal field looking to specialize in the area of immigration.
Because the field of immigration is filled with so many essential rules and regulations, immigration legal assistant students will spend the bulk of their time learning about the immigration principles and how they apply to the different types of applications: temporary resident, permanent residents/citizens and refuges/inadmissible applicants.
This training is important – even when working for someone who is a graduate of an immigration certification course – because of the technical aspects of completing each document perfectly while also keeping files and accounts updated.
First and foremost, an immigration legal assistant should see their role as that of a communicator. Not only must they communicate with the applicant (which, due to accents and language challenges may require patience and a good ear), they must also be able to extract the right data from that applicant for the second communication element – the application itself. Filling out the appropriate forms and going back to the applicant for more information is often required as what the regulations require may not be what the applicant has said. The third communication element is with the immigration consultant (who has taken an immigration certification course), lawyer, notary, paralegal or student at law.
While communicating with immigration applicants, IRCC and your own team is part of the job of an immigration legal assistant, sometimes there will be a fourth communication element. That is the need to work with businesses who are looking to bring and/or keep an applicant to/in Canada. In these cases, you will be working with a company to help complete an application for someone that fills a domestic employment gap.
Regardless of whether working directly with the applicant or through a business, you will communicate with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) on behalf of the applicant, so it is essential to have a positive working relationship with the applicant and all parties involved in the process. Obviously both written and verbal English communication skills must be strong in order to be successful in this job.
Sometimes completing an application will require research due to the often-changing requirements of IRCC when it comes to different kinds of applications. Work permits, residencies and the requirements of these elements may have differing information needs despite applications potentially looking similar. An immigration legal assistant must be up on the rules and regulations and how they apply to each individual and what makes one application different from another.
Research will also come into play when understanding where the various applications are at in the process. Differing demands require an individual who can “change gears” and manage applications simultaneously to maintain the timelines necessary whether they are Express Entry applications, citizen applications, work permit applications or others.
You will also want to become an essential resource for applicants as some will have additional tasks to complete such as the English Language Proficiency tests required by IRCC. While this isn’t a conventional part of the immigration legal assistant’s role, knowing how to advise applicants will make the application process smoother and is more likely to help the applicant be successful in their bid to come to Canada.
Being an immigration legal assistant is a diverse role allowing you to interact with international students, HR departments of multinational corporations, family members of existing Canadian immigrants, lawyers, immigration consultants and representatives of the government of Canada. It’s fulfilling, exciting and may open other doors in the future.