by DANIEL MARK WHEATON
The Carleton FreePress
When Annette Landman moved to Canada in 2000, she planned to be a farmer.
She left Holland and bought a potato farm in Royalton, a quiet community above Centreville along the border to Maine.
For two years she got up every morning and put on her heavy boots, work gloves and overalls to plant potatoes, fix machinery, spray crops, plow fields, harvest and sell the food she produced.
“I love my farming. I love the getting dirty on the farm,” she said in a recent interview.
But farming is one of the hardest things you can do, says the young mother and businesswoman.
“It is the stress due to finances. It’s the stress due to weather. It’s the stress due to the potato market. It’s the stress due to disease in the crop. There are so many things to factor into farming.”
She was kept busy, actively working on the farm every day, but she felt something was missing, she says.
“Somehow, I couldn’t use my brain the way I was used to back in Holland.”
She found she was dependent on the knowledge and advice of her neighbours.
For example, in the spring she might look at a field and think it was ready to be planted. But a farmer who has been working the land in the area for years would point at a field in the distance near the top of a hill and explain that until the snow melted there it was too early to plant down below.
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Eight years after immigrating to Canada, Landman has since started her own business and sold her farm in Royalton.
She now wears a business suit to work and meets with clients in a conference room located behind the desk where her receptionist answers the telephone and greets visitors.
She founded Eastern Canada Immigration Consultants in March 2003.
“The research started in 2002,” she says.
After learning that local trucking companies were having difficulty finding enough drivers to haul their loads, she wondered if people could come from outside Canada to fill the vacant positions.
She learned that it would be possible for European truck drivers to get work permits, so the next step in her research was to see if they would be interested in driving in Canada.
“In February 2003, we put our first ad on a website--an employment website in Holland--and we got more than 10,000 people responding to that over a short period of time.
It was ridiculous the number of responses she got in just five or six weeks, she remembers.
“All these drivers were international drivers, so you place something on a website in Holland and someone will print it off and take it on the road.”
As the resumes poured in, the next step was to begin screening people.
Landman conducted criminal record checks. She looked into how many family member drivers wanted to bring with them to Canada and their medical conditions. She checked references and reviewed work experience.
“We actually called their references,” she says.
From the other side of the ocean, anyone can claim they’ve done a job, but she verified that the information provided was correct.
Within six months of beginning her research, her first driver arrived in May 2003.
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It all happened very quickly and there was a steep learning curve for the Holland native who had left her work as a project manager at a job agency to farm in Canada and then opened her own consulting firm.
“When things started to happen in February, it was like, we need to get this legal. Things were unknown to me. I really had to figure it all out.”
There was a lot to learn, but it was a lot of fun, she says. Starting a business in Canada is different from starting one in Holland. It’s easier.
“In Holland, if you want to be self-employed you have to take a course.”
The course covers bookkeeping, taxes, laws and various other aspects of how to run a company.
“It’s an evening course in general and most people take at least six months before they can do their exams.”
She was surprised at how simple it was to get started with her own business in New Brunswick.
“I was in shock that you could just claim to be whatever, open up your company and that was it.”
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Calling herself an immigration consultant was easy at the time, but it’s not so simple now.
When she started recruiting truckers to Canada, there were 10,000 people calling themselves Canadian immigration consultants worldwide, she says.
But not all of them were following Canadian immigration laws, and not of them were following through with their promises.
“The Canadian government was getting a lot of complaints.”
Citizenship and Immigration Canada decided that something needed to be done, Landman says.
“The government took over and decided that immigration consultants needed to be certified.”
Certification meant extensive studying for those who wanted to become consultants. Since it was a new process, there were no courses offered. It took dedication to self-study immigration law.
The first test was a general knowledge quiz to give the government an idea of what people knew about the market.
From that, a law exam was created.
But in the meantime, candidates were tested on their ability in either or both of the official languages.
“You needed to pass a language test before you were allowed to do the actual exam.”
Following the language test, the number of Canadian immigration consultants dropped to 2,400--partially because people decided not to go through with the process, and partially because people didn’t pass the language test.
Landman passed the language test. Now, she had to study hard.
“It was very tough. It’s law. It’s immigration law.”
Landman made a schedule for herself. She would study every morning, work at the office in the afternoon and go back to studying in the evening.
“You need to know a lot of things. A part of it is an open book exam, but still you have three hours to do 100 questions.”
She went to the University in Fredericton to write her exam.
“I was with the first 55 people in the world who passed their exams.”
That was over two years ago. Now there are 1,000 certified Canadian immigration consultants worldwide.”
Once she was certified, there were additional costs to operating her business legally. But the general public didn’t know the difference between being certified and not, Landman says.
“Slowly but certainly, people are realizing that if they work with us they’re protected. We make a contract. Funds that come in have to go into a trust account. If we do work, we’re allowed to take money out of the trust account.”
Whatever money is not used has to be refunded to the client.
“If we would not do that then they can go to the Canadian Society of Immigration Consultants and they could put in a complaint about us.”
The company could be forced to issue a refund, or if the accusation was serious enough they could lose their license.
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Eastern Canada Immigration Consultants has seen substantial growth since its humble beginnings.
“We started out in my house in Royalton. I started out in one bedroom in 2002. The computer was there anyway, for the farm.”
In early 2003, she realized that room wasn’t going to cut it, so she made a large office in her basement.
A year later there were four full-time staff working there.
“We did that for a little while and then a year ago we decided that we needed to get out of there. I always wanted to go close to Florenceville but there was never really the opportunity to rent.”
Landman says McCain and Day and Ross had all of the good office space, so it took her a while to find her own.
Not all of the work is done out of her Florenceville office, though.
“We’ve got three full-timers and we’ve got agents worldwide. It works better to have agents worldwide and you can do so much with internet nowadays.”
Her agents are able to speak the language of her clients and to meet with them face-to-face.
Landman has also operated an office out of Alberta for a couple of years.
Canada-wide, since she started, she has brought in close to 400 workers on temporary work permits, many of whom have since become landed immigrants.
“I think we have about 225 work permit holders between New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.”
It’s not just truck drives anymore. She has helped people enter Canada for lots of different jobs, as well as entrepreneurs. Her company also helps foreigners obtain student visas.
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When Landman recruits and brings workers to Canada from other countries, she doesn’t just fill out the advance paperwork and then leave them to fend for themselves.
One of the things she’s most proud of is the settlement services she offers her clients.
“We’re here for them when they arrive.”
Once they land in Canada, Landman and her staff spend a day or two with the clients. Before they arrive, housing has already been arranged. They’re given an orientation of the community they’re moving to. They get help opening a bank account and transferring their drivers licence. If they have children, they’re introduced to the school and learn about how the education system works.
And then, the immigration consulting firm is only a phone call away.
“It’s all about guidance and making sure people are comfortable.”
She’s also able to provide legal guidance on immigration issues.
“With my certification, if one of my clients needs to be defended in front of the immigration board, I’m allowed to do that.”