As people look forward to 2021 after this unsettling pandemic year, Canadians will notice the extra steps we’re taking as a country to build for the future through immigration. It’s almost unprecedented.
For lawyers who practise immigration law, that means: get ready. We’re going to be busy, and our specialist skills are going to be more important than ever. Unlike many countries that are retreating and restricting immigration, Canada is opening its doors. Our official goal is to attract 401,000 new immigrants in 2021, followed by 411,000 the next year and 421,000 in 2023.
This is an invitation that we haven’t seen in Canada since before the First World War.
These official targets were tabled in October in the annual report to Parliament by Marco Mendocino, minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
One reason for the boost is that Canada had hoped to attract some 341,000 permanent residents in 2021, but it didn’t happen because of COVID-19. The increased numbers for the next three years are a recognition that our economy needs the new energy that skilled, educated immigrants can bring.
Significantly, in 2021, more than 50 per cent of the newcomers Canada hopes to welcome — some 232,500 people — will be economic immigrants. Their help will be instrumental to growing existing Canadian business as well as to setting up new businesses here.
The opportunities for talented immigration lawyers in Canada will be both endless and demanding. Skilled practitioners know that immigration law is more than filling out forms.
In fact, good service requires a wide range of imagination, attention to detail as well as “soft skills” that can help clients as they navigate the immigration process and begin to call Canada home.
My own experience as an immigrant to Canada is instructive.
I arrived in Canada in 2012 after being educated and practising and teaching law in the Middle East. I became interested in Canadian immigration practice as I worked through my own application file.
Even with my legal experience, as an immigrant I had to start over. I worked as a regulated Canadian immigration consultant, and after living and working in Montreal and Vancouver and earning my LLM at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, I was called to the bar in Ontario in 2019 at 40 — a fresh start.
This kind of fresh start has challenges. But for newcomers a new start in Canada is also a gift that must be cared for and nurtured. Law firms aren’t always seen by everyone as support services the way social service agencies or health clinics are regarded, but a good, strong relationship between newcomers who are clients and their lawyers can be just as important.
In fact, immigration practitioners are integral to the support that new economic immigrants need. Business and enterprise immigrants to Canada understand the significance of the opportunity to establish roots here, and this is where the soft skills can combine with strong practice skills and knowledge to make a big difference for clients and their businesses.
What then, is the extra dimension that good immigration lawyers can bring to the table to help them stand out in an area of specialty where there is lots of demand, but also lots of competition. Here are a few ideas:
Go beyond — A good immigration lawyer will be thorough and meticulous, of course, meeting deadlines, preparing and filing applications and documents and following through to ensure that applicants are successful. A great lawyer does more though — service begins with outreach and understanding of the client’s perspective.
Immigration law is different than almost every other area of practice. Prospective clients seek a specific outcome — they want to immigrate to Canada — but they don’t necessarily know how to navigate the system to get there.
This is where a great immigration lawyer can go above and beyond. Find out what motivates your client to want to set up in Canada. Is it sheer economic opportunity, hardship or duress in the home country, friendship with others from the old country who have already come to Canada or a combination of these? The more you understand your client, the better you can apply your expertise to find the most effective legal pathway. A good immigration lawyer knows not only what clients need in terms of paperwork, but where their dreams are heading. Helping clients is a bit like chess — you have to be creative and think several moves ahead.
Be culturally sensitive and empathetic — Even for those arriving with skills or investment funds to a friendly, relatively welcoming country like Canada, immigration can still be hard. Lawyers need a good “desk-side manner” as much as doctors and nurses need bedside manner. Put yourself in the clients’ shoes. Take time to understand how issues are discussed and business is done in their culture, and be direct and clear in how you communicate with clients. For example, it’s particularly important to be transparent and upfront about how clients are billed and what services they are receiving. Be aware of religious and cultural holidays, sensitive subjects, etiquette and protocol too.
Go the extra distance too. Twice a week, for example, I conduct a live (online) question-and-answer session at no charge for people who need general information about immigrating to Canada. Regardless of whether all become clients, all will appreciate the help.
Play the long game — Helping people move to Canada and set up business can be just the start of a long and positive professional relationship. Businesses need help growing and expanding markets, building networks and relationships. Think of the immigration law work you do for clients as a start, not the finish.
Great immigration lawyers understand their clients’ whole picture — their challenges and obstacles and also their hopes and dreams. It’s the way to do best for clients, your firm and ultimately for Canada too.
Afshin Yazdani LLB, LLM, LLMCL is founder of Yazdani Law Group, based in Thornhill, Ont.