Lessons from 2020

Last year, we posted Lessons from 2019 and we got good feedback from that post. From every perspective, 2020 has been a challenging year and a period of significant change. We have lost staff to COVID-19 and we have had staff who have decided to move provinces to be close to family. We have also welcomed new staff and we have, I believe, continued to provide the best quality service of any immigration law firm in Manitoba. Our positive results are based on hard work and perseverance at getting the best result. We focus on the individual circumstances of each and every client, doing our best to highlight the benefits to Canada.

Here are our three (3) main takeaways from 2020:

1. Hope for the best and REALLY plan for the worst

To a certain extent, this has been our motto from the start. This past year, even more than other years, it has proven to be true. We could not have planned for this pandemic. We could not have planned that friends and loved ones would test positive and we would have to take extreme action to work remotely and keep everyone safe. To be frank, I do not see the end in sight. We will continue to hope the borders will reopen and we will not have to deal with the Quarantine Act and new Orders in Council. We shall see….. In the meantime, as we have done in previous years, we had to plan for every worst case scenario for 2020.

2020

2. Be thankful for each day

As I look back, I remember thinking that 2019 was a bad year. We faced many incidents of our clients being victims of scams. We participated in a criminal investigation against shady immigration consultants. We defended clients from frivolous litigation. I was looking forward to a new year and a new decade.

We do not know what 2021 will bring. It is hard to imagine that 2021 will be worse than 2020 but you never know.

More than anything, we simply must be thankful for each day, whatever it brings. We face our challenges head-on and we fight, as a team.

2020 also shined the light on amazing positives. As a firm, we have supported each other and our clients have benefited from extreme generosity of Manitobans. 

So we want to say a big THANK YOU!

3. Teamistry

The Teamistry podcast, launched in MARCH 2020, has become one of my favourite listening pleasures. Every episode focuses on the benefits and successes of good team management. We have taken the tools from Teamistry and we have done our best to implement these practices in our firm.

Typically, law firms do not run as a team. They are usual top-down, hierarchical organizations that encourage competition and adversarial relationships. In my past firm, the Managing Partner would say, as a point of pride, that he did not know the name of the receptionist. This is not how we do things.

At Clarke Law, we are not a typical law firm. We embrace team building and supporting each other, as much as possible. In my view, this is the best approach and it is the best way to serve clients. Many lawyers do not understand that we are in the service business.

From our families to yours, we wish you all the best for 2021!

Today is our last (official) day of work; however, some staff (actually most staff) who will be coming in to get applications done by the end of 2020. We look forward to serving you 2021 and for many years to come! Canada continues to be one of the hottest destination countries for immigrants and we will do our best to help people come and realize their immigration dreams. Take care and stay safe!

 

Success: Residency Appeal

We love ending the year with positive results. We also love helping clients with IAD appeals. With much work, we were able to achieve these positive results so that our client could get back to her job at the United Nations. She has been doing amazing work with her project and it was a privilege to help this family through this difficult appeal. 2020 has been a difficult year, objectively speaking. It is nice to end the year with an approval from this Residency Appeal to the IRB-IAD.

IAD Approval

In this case, our client received bad legal advice from an immigration consultant in Toronto. Unfortunately, she relied on this bad advice and it led to significant problems. We submitted multiple packages of documents in support of this appeal and this was a team effort at Clarke Immigration Law.

We still have a couple more weeks before 2021. We will continue to work hard everyday and hopefully we can get more positive results before the end of the year. We reported another Residency appeal success at the beginning of 2020. We love celebrating and we love helping our clients.

As an aside, Alastair cannot even remember how many IAD appeals he has won over the past 13 years. For the first IAD appeal, he was a Student-at-Law (Articling student) and he was given an “unwinnable” case. At the time, the partner of the firm gave him the file “for experience” as he was just starting his legal career. In fact, he was the first Articling student to handle an IAD appeal. Indeed, it was good experience and he was able to use a technical legal argument to win the day. The IAD appeal was heard on 3 OCT 2007 and we received the positive decision in early 2008. After that decision, IRCC (then CIC) changed the law and closed that legal loophole.

To date, we would estimate that we have won more than 50 appeals to the IAD. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these appeals are private decisions and they are not publicly reported. We have included a redacted copy of the recent Residency appeal decision with personal information redacted to protect our client’s identity.

Clarke Immigration Law specializes in hearings and appeals. If you have a complex Residency Appeal and you would like assistance with your IAD appeal, please contact our office. 

 

 

Immigration Nation YouTube Interview

On 3 DEC 2020, Alastair was invited to Immigration Nation to answer questions on Canadian immigration laws and regulations. Mark Holthe has been providing very useful information for folks around the world and the focus of this interview was on our CIMM Testimony from 18 NOV 2020. Both Mark and Alastair gave testimony to the parliamentary committee based on our expertise and experience. You can view the entire 66 minute discussion on the Immigration Nation YouTube channel.

During the interview, folks from many countries participated including India, Brazil, Portugal and the United States. Here are some of the issues:

  • How does IRCC make or amend or changes Canadian laws and/or policies?
  • How are Spousal Sponsorships different from SCLPC Class applications?
  • Why can’t Applicants in SCLPC Class applications appeal to the tribunal?
  • How can I win a Spousal Sponsorship appeal at the IAD?
  • What do I do if I have a COPR but I cannot come to Canada?
  • How do I request an extension to IRCC?
  • Draw predictions for future CEC draws for Express Entry?
  • How many points are required for Express Entry applications?
  • Where can I get help with my Spousal Sponsorship application?
  • How is IRCC going to modernize and/or digitize the system?Immigration Nation
  • Why do even have paper-based applications?
  • How has COVID19 impacted the system?
  • Can applicants apply for a TRV while a Spousal Sponsorship is in process?
  • Please explain dual intent per s22 of IRPA.
  • Explain the new “fiancee visa” for getting authorization for applicants who are in “exclusive dating relationships”.
  • Do you have examples of foreign nationals getting authorization to join their partners in Canada?
  • How have MPNP applicants been affected by COVID19?
  • How do immigration lawyers deal with bad Google reviews?
  • How do lawyers protect themselves from fraud?
  • What happens when agents imposter a lawyer?
  • Can I submit expired Police Clearance Certificates to IRCC?

For information or answers to any of the above points, please watch the Immigration Nation interview. Mark has built a legal practice based on giving free information on his website for general questions. Please note, however, that he does not provide specific legal advice and he will advise that individuals need to book a consultation for a one-on-one conversation to discuss the details of the particular case.

Immigration Nation is a great resource for folks around the world who are interested in learning about Canadian immigration law. It was an honour and privilege for Alastair to be interviewed on this YouTube channel and talk about the issues above.

WOTEC Scam

Warning: please contact our office directly by phone (204-599-6966) or email. There are criminals who use an address in Ontario at “WOTEC Group”who are fraudulently using our name and firm details to solicit clients. We have no connection with WOTEC and they are using our identity without permission or consent. This is a scam. Do not be a victim.

Scam

There are two (2) Google reviews from individuals who have no contact with our firm. We believe they gave money to WOTEC and they received bad service. They believe their negative experience was related to my team in Winnipeg and that is simply not true. They are victims of the WOTEC scam.

We cannot reveal the names of the individuals who came forward and gave us these documents but we thank them. They correctly realized they are the victims of this scam and their money may be gone.

We have contacted the RCMP, the Winnipeg Police Service, the Peel Regional Police and the CBSA Criminal Investigations Unit. Thankfully, we have good and respectful relationships with law enforcement and we support their investigation. We must also have patience while they conduct their investigations.

We have received a full contract from clients who contacted our office believing that we represent them. They insisted, of course, they had spoken with Alastair Clarke and they gave us money via WhatsApp. Please note we follow Law Society of Manitoba Rules and do NOT accept payment via WhatsApp. They realized they were the victims of a scam.

We may not be the only victims. I have also notified my colleagues from across Canada to let them know about this scam. They may be using the details of other reputable immigration law firms in Canada to solicit clients and take advantage of victims.

You can see the attached contact is signed by “Daniel Jim”. Please be advised he has no connection with our firm and we have had no contact with this person. He may be fictional. Please avoid any contact.

We have tried to contact WOTEC and we are considering legal action. To date, they have not replied.

 

Best Immigration Lawyers

Clarke Immigration Law, and Alastair Clarke in particular, has been recognized as one of the Top 3 Immigration Lawyers in Winnipeg by ThreeBestRated.ca. Of course, I need to thank all the staff at CIL. We work as a close team to get the work done.

Please note: we had no influence or input into this ranking. In fact, we were actually quite surprised to receive the news this morning. If you are reading this, you likely know that we specialize only in Canadian immigration & refugee law. For those who need immigration lawyers for any other jurisdiction, for example the USA, we would make a referral to one of our colleagues in the United States and they can help you if you are are interested in moving south to Trumpland. We help people and businesses open doors to Canada, arguably the best country in the world.

immigration lawyers

Here is a copy of the message we received from ThreeBestRated.ca:

Congratulations!  You are now listed as one of the Top 3 Immigration lawyers in Winnipeg, MB. We would like to Thank You for providing consistent high-quality service in your area of business. Our review team either approved or updated your business listing using our rigorous 50-Point Inspection which includes everything from checking reputation, history, complaints, ratings, nearness, satisfaction, trust, cost and general excellence.

I would also congratulate my colleagues Carolina and Louay for being recognized as the other Top Immigration Lawyers in Winnipeg. We are a small community and we know each other quite well. We know who does good work and who provides good service for their clients. Unfortunately, there are many bad immigration consultants, shady immigration agents and, to be frank, bad immigration lawyers out there. The Applicant is the victim.

I also want to thank everyone who has written a review for us on Google Reviews. Currently, we have a rating of 4.9 STARS out of 5 possible STARS, based on 54 individual reviews. I have to mention that we read each and every review. If a client has provided valid criticism, we deal with it immediately. At the same time, we are bound by solicitor-client privilege and we cannot disclose any personal information about our clients, even if they are not 100% satisfied.

Immigration lawyers have a huge amount of responsibility. We say we are in the business of saving lives. When our applications are granted, it means that families are reunited, students are able to pursue their academic dreams and Canadian businesses have the international talent to serve their customers.

Success: Study Permit

As the saying goes, third time is the charm. An international student at Brandon University entered our office, almost in tears. She had hired an immigration consultation (bad choice, of course) who submitted a Study Permit on her behalf. It had been refused and she was told to leave Canada. The situation in her home country has deteriorated and her family’s business was greatly affected. As we are dealing with the effects of COVID-19, these situations are not uncommon. We were able to help her get back on track and she was able to resume her studies. Another successful application. I wish her all the best.

Study Permit

The description above is a brief summary of the case. Once we were retained as her representatives, we submitted an ATIP to review her GCMS Notes. We discovered her previous immigration consultant submitted two Study Permits on her behalf. This incompetent representative only told her about the first application. She submitted the same documents to IRCC and, unsurprisingly, the applicant received a second refusal.

Our Study Permit application was this applicant’s 3rd attempt. We were able to show sufficient documentation related to her family’s dire situation and evidence that she is a genuine student, despite her hardship. The IRCC Officer accepted our submissions and she was able to go back to Brandon University.

I remember meeting former Minister of IRCC John McCallum when he came to Winnipeg. He is, in fact, a former professor at the University of Manitoba. He has asserted many times that international students are strong applicants and IRCC should support their dreams of Permanent Resident status. In my view, many IRCC Officers want to support students; however, if they hire incompetent immigration consultants, it is very difficult for IRCC to help.

Legal Fees Increase (Not Ours)

Canadian Lawyer magazine has published its annual survey of legal fees for 2020. Please note these results may be prior to COVID19 and the pandemic. Here at Clarke Immigration Law, we have continued to provide flexible payment plans to our clients and we want to provide support to folks who are struggling financially. Legal Fees

The key finding from the 2020 survey is simply that legal fees across Canada are going up. The increase varies depending on the region and the area of law. We have published extensively on legal fees over the years and we have done our best to dispel many myths, including the false claim that Immigration Consultants are cheaper. We have reviewed many invoices from representatives and consultants charging clients very high fees. For example, we represented a family on a Spousal Sponsorship Appeal at the IRB-IAD and our fees, as published, were $6,500. This family had retained a consultant who initially told them she would charge $4,000; however, then she advised that due to the “complexity” of the issues, she needed an extra $4,000 so her total fees would be $8,000. So they fired her. Good decision. In the end, we won and I advised that they sue their former consultant in Small Claims Court.

I have published our review on the Legal Fees for 2019 on this site. I have also published some posts on reports of clients who have been grossly overcharged and they are the victims of abuse. I have also compared our fees with other Canadian law firms who publish their fees online. As noted by Canadian Lawyer Magazine:

Significantly more survey respondents reported they’d be raising their fees this year than last — 53 per cent, which is nearly 10-per-cent higher than said the same in 2019. For 45 per cent, fees will remain the same as 2019. Only 1.2 per cent indicated they were lowering fees in 2020, but that is an increase from 2019, when zero respondents reported dropping their fees.

Whether the slowdown in the economy caused by the pandemic will cause a shift in legal spending remains to be seen.

Higher overhead was the most common reason respondents gave for a decision to raise fees, followed by inflation and then increased complexity. For the small number who lowered fees, it was competition and the economy that motivated the decision.

If you read this space, you know that the fees at Clarke Immigration Law are based on our professional experience working at the largest immigration law firm on Bay Street in Toronto, Ontario, fees from Legal Aid Ontario and the private bar in Ontario, as well as fees from other private law firms in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Unfortunately, we have seen many cases of significant unethical billing practices from lawyers and consultants. Very poor billing practices. For these reasons, we are focused on providing the best services and being 100% transparent with our legal fees.

To be clear, our fees will not be increasing for 2020. We continue to believe that our fees are fair, based on the work done of the files. You can read our reviews on Google (4.9 stars out of 5). Our clients are incredibly supportive and they recognize the high quality of work.

Here is the above information in a clear chart for 2020, including fees for CLARKE IMMIGRATION LAW and the fees published by Canadian Lawyer Magazine for Western Canada:

SERVICES OUR FEES FEES – WESTERN AVERAGE
Work Permit $1,800 $2,061
Family Class sponsorship $5,500 $5,200
Skilled Worker Application $5,500 $6,388
Refugee Protection Claim starting at $3,500 $5,750

As you can see, our clients receive quality services at very competitive prices for Western Canada.

WARNING: I want to warn clients from a common practice. I have seen many immigration lawyers & consultants provide clients a low initial quote for services. For example, they will ask for $800 to open a file for a Work Permit at the beginning. Then, they will start to work on the application and they will demand an additional $2000 to continue work. Ultimately, clients are the victims.

 

Milestone: 500 files!

We do not normally use this space to boast; however, I am going to make an exception today. We just opened our 500th file at Clarke Immigration Law! This is quite a milestone! Each file brings its own challenges and as we work with our clients, new issues may emerge. Part of the reason we love our work is that we get to know our clients as though they are family. Immigration is messy by nature. There are often intersections with family law, criminal law (aka crimmigration) and/or business law. We have the privilege of working with HR Managers and lawyers from foreign 500jurisdictions. I cannot remember a day when I have not learned something new. It may be the Statute of Limitations on a charge in Chile or the intersection between Civil Law and Criminal Law in Palestine.

500 files means that our philosophy is working. We publish our fees online and put our clients first. You can talk to anyone at Clarke Immigration Law. We strongly believe that if we serve our clients and work hard, money will come later. We want to be able to use our privileged position to help people, not burden them with debt and more problems. I remember when we started, a young couple came to the office. He was an undocumented worker in Las Vegas and she flew down there from Winnipeg for a vacation. She came back pregnant and they decided to get married. (In this case, what happened in Vegas did not stay in Vegas!) With a pregnant Canadian fiancee, he jumped in his car and drove to the border. No passport. No money. He had issues at the POE and she had the sense to call me. They paid for the consultation and the deposit. From there, we worked with CBSA and IRCC to regularize his status. They got married in Canada and they have a beautiful son. Eventually, we got paid. No problem.

Even in times of crisis, we have clients who need our services. We have been taking extraordinary steps since JAN2020 to ensure we stay safe and healthy so that we can continue to serve our clients. To a certain extent, we are on the front line. We regularly meet with clients from every corner of the world. We need to follow the political revolution in Venezuela to the protests in Hong Kong to the law reform campaigns in Senegal. In fact, we met with clients from Wuhan, China right at the beginning who described the quarantine measures in person. Thankfully, they left Wuhan before the crisis and they spent significant time in the USA before coming to Canada.

This pandemic has greatly affected Manitoba and our firm. I am extremely proud how we have been observing physical distancing rules. Prime Minister Trudeau has done an exceptional job at working from home, even as his wife suffers from COVID19 and he has to do much of the childcare and housework. At CIL, we can relate. We have staff with young kids who have to spend their days taking care of the kids while we lack daycare & school services. We have adapted.

500 files is huge! For us, this means that we have helped dozens of families, dozens of different communities and touched many lives. These 500 files include successes at Federal Court, positive decisions from the Refugee Protection Division, grants of Canadian citizenship, countless Study Permits, numerous Work Permits and too many new Permanent Residents of Canada to count. We have been invited to weddings in Cuba, attended birthday parties of our clients’ children and danced at music festivals where our clients were on stage! How awesome is that?!

As you know, we are open. We are working in this environment which has become the new normal. It is hard to say how long this is going to last. I want to stress that CBSA Officers and IRCC Officers are acutely aware how this pandemic is affecting applicants. It is also affecting Officers. At no other time is this adage more true: we are in this together.

Thank you. I mean that. We want to thank all our clients and business partners for having faith in our expertise. Each time a client signs a Retainer Agreement, that means they are putting their confidence in Clarke Immigration Law to do the work. We take this very seriously and I hope that we will continue to serve clients for many years to come.

Stay safe. Stay healthy.

 

 

Success: Refugee Appeal

refugee appeal

This photo is used with permission.

In early 2018, a Somali man came to us in distress and he asked us to help with a refugee appeal. His claim for refugee status was refused by the Refugee Protection Division (RPD). He was represented by a lawyer who was going through mental health issues and, unfortunately, that lawyer did not prepare a strong case. We agreed to assist with this individual with a refugee appeal to the Refugee Appeal Division (RAD) based on the fact that significant evidence had not been considered and his particular circumstances.

We worked with the Somali community in Manitoba and our client’s network of supporters. We were able to prepare significant new evidence. For some reason, the previous lawyer did not prepare a strong case even though the documents were available. Based on the evidence, we put together a strong package on behalf of our client.

After ten (10) months, the RAD granted our appeal and overturned the RPD refusal. The RAD Member agreed with our significant legal arguments and agreed with our submissions that the new evidence may have had a significant impact on the refugee claim. To ensure full disclosure, we were fortunate to have a sympathetic RAD Member decide this refugee appeal. In this case, the client opted not to file a complaint against his former lawyer.

A refugee appeal is challenging and most appeals are dismissed. In 2019, only 12% of RAD appeals in the IRB Western Region were allowed. Building on our success with other appeals, we are thrilled with this decision and we strongly agree with the RAD. Our client’s previous lawyer did a terrible job and, thankfully, we have been able to fix this mess.

NOTE: Clarke Immigration Law accepts Legal Aid Certificates for RPD hearings only. Based on the amount of work involved with refugee appeals and the low rate of approval, we only accept refugee appeals on private retainer agreements and our fees are published online. Typically, our clients pay $500 monthly based on our flexible payment plans.

 

Lessons From 2019

We find ourselves at the end of another year. Indeed, the end of 2019 also marks the end of a decade. This is a time for contemplation and an opportunity to ponder lessons to learn for the future. I want to start but expressing my thanks and gratitude for my team. I am thankful every single day to work with an amazing group of professionals who put their hearts into their work. My main job is to provide guidance and support to ensure that we remain focused on providing the absolute best service for our clients.

I want to take time at the end of 2019 to think about lessons learned; hopefully, 2020 will bring positive change.

  1. Applicants Remain Vulnerable

Over and over and over and over, we have seen how applicants have paid thousands upon thousands of CAD dollars to shady representatives for poor service. I find it deeply frustrating and infuriating to see clients punished as a result of negligence. These applicants are the victims and they remain vulnerable. I recently attended an interview with a CBSA Officer and an Egyptian client shared her story. She paid an immigration consultant $15,000.00 for an application and she was not even eligible to apply. In my view, that is pure theft.

We are working with a Vietnamese family who paid a Chinese representative for a Study Permit. Completely wrong. Thankfully, CBSA started a criminal investigation against him and I hope his former clients are not punished.

In 2019, the Government of Canada took action “to help protect vulnerable people” against “fraudulent immigration consultants”. We will have to see if things get better in 2020 and the next decade.

  1. Canada is the New Hope2019

Clarke Immigration Law is based on Canada’s status around the world and I am constantly reminded how fortunate we are to live in one of the best (if not the best) countries. From our office, this past decade marks a strong collaboration with the news. We were called upon by CBC News, CTV News, Global News, Winnipeg Free Press and many other news sources to comment on different stories. Primarily, these stories stemmed from Canada as the New Hope in the world, replacing the United States as the “best” country for applicants from around the globe.

It was my pleasure as the only Canadian lawyer at the international EB-5 Conference in Las Vegas, USA. I was asked to present as a result of the interest by investors around the world in Canadian business opportunities, including the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program – Business Investor Stream. And, of course, I must mention the amazing people at TEDx Winnipeg who gave me the stage to talk about open borders and refugees which has been published on YouTube.

It is clear that 2020 will be a decade of growth for Canada and we will continue to work to build this country.

  1. Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

Generally speaking, I stay out of politics. I have worked with Members of Parliament from all political parties and we will continue to advocate on behalf of our client regardless of the party in power. That said, I firmly support the current Liberal government and I am hopeful for this coming decade.

My hope for positive political change in 2020 is also balanced with a plan to consider the worst. Minister McCallum made significant changes to IRPA that rolled back many of the inhumane changes by the former Conservative government; however, this government needs to do more. I feel privileged that we were able to work with the Liberal government to make changes to section 38 of IRPA (Medical Inadmissibility) on behalf of the Warkentin family.

  1. Uncertainty on the Horizon

As my mum often says, the only constant is change. There is no doubt that 2020 and the new decade will bring change. Here are a few predictions for this coming decade:

  • The Government of Canada and the Government of Manitoba will continue to buttress immigration laws to attract STEM graduates and professionals;
  • The current Liberal government will focus on quicker processing times, including Family Class applications;
  • Regional migration and new programs that focus on smaller communities will thrive;
  • International students are the strongest stream for Permanent Resident status;
  • Refugees will be recognized for their economic contributions;
  • The changes to regulation of Immigration Consultants will fail and the government will be forced to revisit this issue.

We wish you all the best for 2020 and the coming decade. We have many reasons to celebrate 2019 and, at the same time, learn from past lessons.