Bill to Regulate Immigration Firms
From The World Journal
April 29th, 2004

A bill going through the City Council specifies the services that immigration consultancy firms are not allowed to provide and requires them to disclose rights to clients. According to the bill, offenders would be subject to criminal or civil law procedures. The new legislation has the support of Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and the Department of Consumer Affairs. But the two agencies nonetheless said the bill is too lenient, and that licensing the service is the only way to ensure effective management and law enforcement.

The bill was proposed by Kendall Stewart, chairman of the City Council’s Immigration Committee, and 10 other council members, including John Liu. It prevents immigration service firms from guaranteeing their clients that their applications will be granted and bans the firms from charging at exorbitant rates, advertising as law firms, or claiming to have licenses to practice law. The bill also requires the firms to return application documents to their clients.

The bill requires the firms to provide their clients with documents both in English and in the clients’ native languages, explain the firms’ services and charges and make clear that consultants are not lawyers and are not allowed to provide legal service. It also specifies that if the clients decide to revoke the contracts within three days, all charges should be refunded, and that the clients should receive a copy of all the documents.

The bill also requires the firms to post notices in their offices saying “The person who is providing service to you is not a lawyer; nor does he/she have the right to deal with the Citizenship and Immigration Services or other government agencies on your behalf. He/She is not allowed to provide any legal consultation or charge you for any legal service.” According to the bill, the notice should specify the firm’s schedule and fees. Similar specifications also apply to the firms’ advertisements.

First offenders would be subject to criminal charges and fines ranging from $250 to $2,500, and repeated offenders are subject to fines from $500 to $5,000. The proposed law also allows immigrants to complain and ask for compensation.
Sayu Bhojwani, Director of Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and Pauline Toole, Deputy Commissioner of Department of Consumer Affairs, both acknowledged the important of the bill. But they said City Council should expand the bill and allow for licensing of the service to ensure effective management and law enforcement.

Bhojwani said a list of licensed firms should be available to protect new immigrants who speak little English and are not familiar with the city from fraud. The list should be posted on the Internet or printed on pamphlets, she said, and should be available on 311.

Toole said the Department of Consumer Affairs used to regulate 55 industries with licenses, and that according to her experience, firms have to conform to laws when the municipal government has the right to issue and revoke licenses. She also said immigration service firms should provide guarantees, which would make them less likely to close unexpectedly without fulfilling their obligations. The guarantees would also help to compensate the clients should such frauds occur.

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Translated from Chinese by Shasha Dai.

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