A controversial dismissal of a migrant employee at Copperhouse Eatery and Lounge has caused some confusion about how immigration papers are processed and what are the best avenues for protecting newcomers with appropriate status.
Liang Chen, a partner with the restaurant, is one of the few federally-registered immigration consultants in the NWT. He often provides employers in town with immigration advice to help bring in foreign workers. He acknowledged that there’s some confusion about how his restaurant dealt with Niki Mckenzie, the former acting head chef, who had come to work in Yellowknife from New Zealand with a two-year work holiday permit that set to expire June 3.
Copperhouse management applied for a work permit in support of Mckenzie in late May. On Aug. 17 they gave her a termination letter “effective immediately” with the application still in process.
She had been employed with the company since spring and Chen assisted her in applying for a new work permit from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).
“At the time (in early 2018) she didn’t have a job and she wanted to stay in Canada,” Chen said. “We said this might be an opportunity to work until June. We would be open (the restaurant) around March and if you work out, we will support for your work permit extension and get a new work permit because the one she had was expiring.”
Mckenzie stated the company mishandled her papers because they didn’t apply for a “restoration of status” of the permit that she had and that the restaurant is trying to tie foreign national workers into two-year work permits so to avoid labour shortfalls.
“Instead of applying for a restoration of status, which would have granted me an extra year of open work permit, they waited right up until it was about to expire and trapped me into a locked visa work permit instead,” Mckenzie said.
Chen maintained that she misunderstood the process and that if they had waited for her permit to expire and then apply, it would have meant that she wouldn’t be able to work until a positive response came back from IRCC. This could have taken from three months to 100-plus days, according to Chen. By applying early for a new work permit, it put Mckenzie on “implied status,” meaning she could legally work and remain in Canada until a decision was made on the application.
“You can’t work during that (restoration of status application) time,” he said. “We communicated from the beginning that the process would take a long time so the best course of action was to wait until almost expiring (and applying) to support her.
“We would send in (a) work permit application with our own financial support documents and that way she would not not lose status.”
Mckenzie said she was led to believe that her her status was cancelled when she was dismissed because the company could no longer support her after termination. Chen said the final decision is actually up to IRCC.
“We communicated very early on with her that whether we support you in with your status depends on your job,” Chen said. “We can’t support you if you don’t have a job. Immigration Canada will communicate with her application what is the status. Until they communicate that, she is on implied status.”
Immigration Lawyers vs. Immigration consultants
Mckenzie also stated that she was led to believe she was dealing with Chen as an immigration lawyer on staff, but he said his actual role as a representative of the restaurant was explained to her early in her hiring. Immigration consultants are typically certified and registered after taking a community college course to provide advice, help file immigration papers and represent a client at an immigration tribunal. Their information can be found through the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council registry. Immigration lawyers provide legal advice, represent clients in court and their histories are traceable through a law society website.
“I was not her representative in any way and I was giving professional advice without representing her,” said Chen.
Marie Pier Leduc and Jenna Kirk are the two lawyers registered to practise immigration law in the NWT, according to the Law Society of the Northwest Territories. Both say newcomers can be confused about the difference between immigration consultants and immigration lawyers and it’s important people take precautions when dealing with professionals.
“There have been a lot of cases recently with improper actions by immigration consultants coming out of B.C.,” Kirk said. “Recently, charges have been laid on consultants based on giving improper advice or overly-charging for services, or not doing it properly, or saying they have more experience than they do or holding themselves out to be lawyers when they are not actual lawyers.”
Deneen Everett, president of Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce, said some of the difficulties that Yellowknife restaurants and businesses may be facing with immigration and filling labour shortages is an issue that she has been hearing from some members.
“It is more of a federal issue, but broadly and vaguely we do hear from our membership that there is always a challenge of bringing in foreign workers or immigrants and to keep staff full,” she said, adding she does believe recruiting and retaining workers is a problem in the North.