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By: Alex NikotinaPublished On: February 10, 2017
A professional with over 30 years of experience in immigration consulting, Ron McKay shares his career journey, achievements and hopes for the future of the immigration industry.
Thinking back to his early career path, Ron could identify several moments that led him to choose immigration industry. The first one was in his hometown in Sudbury, Ontario. “I was raising funds for the multicultural society that was helping to bring a refugee to Sudbury,” he shares. “That was the first encounter with the immigration processes.”
Ron got the second push towards the immigration industry during his university years. “I was the president of a student council, and as part of my role, I sat on the admissions, petitions and promotions committee. Among the discussions of grade appeals, I came across some of the issues that universities still face today when it comes to international students. Students’ access to university, language standards, visa and permit issues – those were some of the questions that came up during the meetings. This got me more interested in the immigration processes.”
Ron has over 30 years of experience in the area of immigration consulting. He started his career working overseas as an Immigration Officer at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, Japan. “It was truly a great opportunity and a wonderful experience for me,” shares Ron. “I was placed in a smaller office, which allowed me to work on a variety of different immigration cases. This wouldn’t have happened if I was in a larger office.”
Ron also shared that he found himself in a unique position as a Canadian. “Usually Canadians don’t know much about immigration, visa and permits processes,” says Ron, smiling. “Working in Japan, I got to learn what it meant to go through the immigration procedures and fill the required paperwork. It was an opportunity for me to experience what foreign workers and immigrants go through, which helped me better understand my field of work.”
After almost 10 years in Japan, Ron returned to Canada, where he held a variety of different positions in the immigration industry at both national and provincial levels. “I’ve worked for Clark Wilson LLP for about 20 years, providing immigration consulting services,” shares Ron. “I’ve also served on the Board of Directors for ICCRC for 5 years and held the position of the National Chair of ICCRC in 2015-2016.”
If that isn’t impressive enough, Ron was also the first elected National President of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants (CAPIC), and he is a longstanding member of the organization.
This year, Ron has been appointed as Director, Immigration Practitioner Programs at Ashton College.
When Ron has free time, he spends it playing the drums or doing different martial arts. He is also the Vice-President of the Vancouver Curling Club. “I actually learned how to curl in Japan,” says Ron, adding that this fact has always surprised Canadians.
An experienced professional in the immigration industry, Ron knew that he wanted to share his knowledge with others. “Teaching and coaching seemed like a logical step for me,” shares Ron.
Ron started his training and coaching as a member of Organization of Professional Immigration Consultants (OPIC, one of the predecessors of CAPIC). “Throughout my work with OPIC, and later with CAPIC, I was often in charge of the educational meetings for the members,” shares Ron. “I was assisting with the educational programs, which became the first form of the CPDs at the time. Even then we were always focused on professional development for the practitioners in the industry.”
Ron became one of the first immigration consultants to speak at the meetings for the Law Society of BC and local Canadian Bar Associations. Now, Ron has over 20 years of teaching and coaching experience, having given presentations in different lecture halls and for various committees throughout his career.
“I see myself as an immigration guide,” shares Ron. “My role is to lead the students through the immigration universe with its rules and processes that are as ever-changing as the river.”
As a Director, Immigration Practitioner Programs at Ashton College, Ron wants to continue influencing young immigration consultants. “I knew about the great work that Ashton College did, especially in the field of Immigration,” says Ron. “I’ve also presented the CPD seminars at Ashton a few times, and sat on the Advisory Committee for 2 years.”
Ron had to stop his work with Ashton College when he became the National Chair of ICCRC, the same reason why he stopped his work with Clark Wilson LLP. “I didn’t want to have any conflicts of interest,” says Ron. “But once I finished my work there, I knew I wanted to work with Ashton College again – and I am happy that I did.”
Ron is excited to continue to elevate the standards of education and give more support to the immigration consultants. “People often say that the goal of the Immigration Consulting program is to help the student pass the ICCRC Exam. However, that this is only part of the bigger picture.”
“I believe that the goal of the Immigration Consultant programs is twofold: preparing the students for the ICCRC Exam and producing qualified professionals in the immigration consulting industry.”
“We need to focus on upholding the high standard of professionalism in the immigration industry,” adds Ron. “And this is my goal as the director of the program.”
Ron also had an opportunity to personally mentor several Ashton graduates. “Sometimes, the students have finished the immigration program and passed ICCRC Exam, but are not yet comfortable taking on cases. This is where mentorship comes in,” he says, adding that he is usually quite selective with the people he chooses to personally mentor. “Mentorship is a serious task, and I want to make sure that I give the students the knowledge and practice they need during that time.”
“When I started in the industry, I remember having conversations about the 3 major needs for immigration consultants: regulatory body, national association and educational programs,” shares Ron. “Throughout my career in immigration consulting, I got to witness and be a part of the growth in all 3 areas. I consider it an honour and a privilege,” he adds.
At the same time, what Ron is more excited about is the future growth of the industry. “Immigration consulting is still a new profession,” says Ron. “But it is continuously raising its standards, slowly and systematically.”
“Recent changes in the immigration industry, such as the increase in the number of hours for Immigration Consulting programs and the changes in the language requirement, are part of Canada’s commitment to raise the industry’s standards.”
“I am hoping to see mandatory articling period and division into areas of specialization for the new immigration consultants,” shares Ron. “I believe that would be a step in the right direction for the industry.”
When asked about advice for success in immigration consulting, Ron just smiles. “Throughout my career, I came across different kinds of people in the industry, and personally I believe that they can be divided into 2 categories. The first one is people who work well in a structured environment, in a company or organization. The second one is for the highly entrepreneurial individuals who prefer to be solo practitioners. What works for the people in the first category will not necessarily work for the people in the second category, and vice versa.”
“Not everyone is ready to or has a desire to be an entrepreneur. The most important thing is to know yourself and understand what environment you work best in. Remember that there are different options for you in the Immigration industry.”
Ron also recommends having a serious attitude when taking the Immigration Consulting program. “You are studying different modules during Immigration Consulting Diploma,” says Ron. “But your goal is to understand how those individual modules are fitting into the whole picture. You should remember that you are the source of knowledge for the client, so it is important to know how to take a holistic look at the immigration system. “
“You should be able to take a step back and see how your knowledge of each module fits into the immigration process as a whole – only then you will be able to guide your client through the immigration process.”
“I always tell my students: immigration authorities are the judge, the jury and the executioner in our industry,” adds Ron. “And they have certain needs that they are trying to meet for the country. Our goal as Immigration Consultants is to help the client move in the same direction as what the immigration officials are looking for. If we can do that, the immigration process will be very smooth.”