The journey to reinvent the training and education of Canada’s immigration consultants has been a two-year path at Queen’s Law. It culminates today with the launch of the Graduate Diploma in Immigration and Citizenship Law. As of August 1, this two-term, nine-course online program will be the only educational pathway for Canadians who want to become Regulated Immigration Consultants.
Above and beyond a rethinking of how Canadian immigration consultants are educated and trained, it’s been a labour of love for Academic Director Sharry Aiken. And, in some respects, the culmination of her professional journey.
“Before my appointment to Queen’s Law, I had worked in community development in Asia and Latin America, and in northern Ontario. I learned through that experience that community partnerships are key to success,” she says.
Today, Professor Aiken is one of Canada’s most respected experts in immigration and refugee law. For the past two years, however, the development of the Graduate Diploma in Immigration and Citizenship Law has been one of her key focuses.
“The national regulator had contacted us through a Queen’s Law graduate for our input on their education program,” she explains. “The regulator itself was in transition at the time, and under the leadership of its new CEO we opted to submit a bid in a competitive process to become the English-language provider of a completely revamped diploma program for immigration consultants.”
That bid – buoyed by the Faculty’s success in the creation and launch of its national online Certificate in Law program – was successful. The Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council – the national regulatory body behind Canadian immigration consulting – announced the law school’s successful bid on May 1, 2019. Since that date, Aiken has been building the program with both internal and external experts involved in its construction.
“Stakeholder engagement is pivotal to success – you need the support of the people whose lives your work affects to be effective,” she says – speaking to a core philosophy behind the program’s design and development. “Even before the ink dried on our successful bid for this project, I set about building a credible national advisory committee. It is representative of the regions of Canada, the kinds of work that consultants do, and gave practitioners and the legal community a direct channel in the development of the program – particularly important given concerns the bar has about the sector.”
The committee, she points, out, is not just window dressing, but a hard-working and vital part of the program’s development. “Members are very involved with regular meetings, direct input on program policy, and providing support in relation to the broad strokes of curriculum development.
“As a past student, a sole practitioner, and an immigrant, I enjoyed sharing my perspectives and knowledge in the development of the program,” says Ivory Xi, a Regulated Canadian Immigration Consultant living in Victoria, B.C., and part of the National Advisory Committee. “Professor Aiken’s approach organized us into a national team, contributing to this program by bringing our diverse skills and experience into play.”
Building a program to meet the diverse needs of immigration consultants required input not only from coast to coast, but from around the world. “As part of the process for submitting our bid to become the English-language provider of this program, we conducted an environmental scan of programs in Canada and similar jurisdictions such as Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain,” Aiken says. “Some of these jurisdictions were well ahead of the curve with a more sophisticated approach to competency-based education. The existing diploma programs in those jurisdictions, as well as my own experience as an immigration and refugee lawyer, helped us identify gaps in Canada’s prior approach to training consultants.”
The result is a program that puts equal emphasis on practical skills and academic knowledge. “That equal focus is what distinguishes us from prior programs,” Aiken says. “Skills have to be equal components with content knowledge, and both have to be integrated, practised and assessed in the program, woven into every course and evaluated.”
So how does this weaving happen? Creating an online program that combines pedagogical excellence with input from advisors and program developers poses its own challenges. Fortunately for the law school, these are challenges it was poised to face. “Over the course of the past few years, Queen’s Law has invested in building a teaching and learning team composed of education experts, course developers, and multimedia designers,” says Laura Kinderman, Assistant Dean, Education Innovation and Online Programs at the law school. “We’re working to provide high-quality educational experiences for our students, blending traditional teaching with the latest pedagogical tools for online education.”
The Graduate Diploma in Immigration & Citizenship Law is the third Queen’s Faculty of Law program to launch online in the last four years, continuing a pattern of growth in education that began under former Dean Bill Flanagan and continues under the Faculty’s current Dean, Mark Walters. “Our online programs bring to bear the expertise of national and international legal academics,” Dean Walters says. “In addition to one of the country’s leading JD and graduate programs, we now have an array of online programs that provide legal education to people of all walks of life. Access to justice is a key value at Queen’s Law, and our online programs make it easier for all Canadians to access and understand the law.”
Access to justice is a vital part of what Professor Aiken sees as the benefits of the program – and only a part of its many benefits. “We’re going to be building a cohort of competent, compassionate professionals poised to make a difference in the lives of their clients and our broader community. This program will be a flagship for Queen’s Law, in supporting the values that inform all our work at the law school,” she says. “I’m very excited to see the project at the cusp of its launch.
“It’s been a challenging and rewarding process, but the greatest rewards will be hearing from our future students about their positive learning experiences, and I’m looking forward to that.”
For more information and to apply, visit https://immigrationdiploma.queenslaw.ca/