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Immigration agents caught out over illegal rubber-stamping

Gill Bonnett, Reporter

Immigration agents have been caught illegally rubber-stamping bulk applications made by unlicenced advisers overseas.

Immigration Photo: supplied

More than a dozen agents, including a former immigration officer, have been hauled in front of its disciplinary panel, which says it has had a series of complaints about the practice.

In what the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal described as one of the worst cases of its kind, Wellington adviser Howard Levarko, a former Immigration New Zealand officer, set up a rubber-stamping operation with a recruitment company in Canada.

Mr Levarko signed off the company's visa applications as a licensed adviser but was caught when he lied to one of the would-be immigrants, Andrej Stanimirovic, about his knowledge of his case.

"I am satisfied Mr Levarko fabricated that information which he provided to Mr Stanimirovic," said the tribunal in its decision.

"The fabrication was intended to deceive Mr Stanimirovic and cause him to believe that Mr Levarko had his immigration affairs in hand, whereas in fact he had no knowledge of them.

"The behaviour was dishonest and misleading. It occurred in the context of an illegal rubber-stamping operation and the gravity of the dishonesty is to be measured against that background.

"For the reasons discussed, rubber-stamping is a criminal offence under the legislation that gives Mr Levarko the status of being a licensed immigration adviser."

Mr Stanimirovic eventually arrived in New Zealand on a visitor visa, and was turned around on arrival as border officials suspected he was not a tourist and was instead looking for a job.

"The provision of the necessary immigration services in the manner required by the Act and the 2014 Code would have ensured that Mr Stanimirovic could have made an informed decision whether to come to New Zealand, and if so entered New Zealand under the relevant policy," the tribunal found.

It said he "disparage New Zealand's immigration system as part of the deception to hide his own unprofessional actions," saying he or the Canadian company made "hundreds and hundreds" of applications and the New Zealand embassy in Washington provided poor customer services.

Mr Levarko said the immigrants were not his clients and he did not provide them with immigration advice.

He said that he consulted the New Zealand Immigration Advisers Authority which confirmed the arrangements he was entering into with the Canadian company were appropriate and complied with all immigration laws and rules.

The tribunal can impose fines or licence sanctions for the breach.

It has previously dealt with similar operations set up between New Zealand advisers and the Philippines and Australia.

It has also stamped down on unlicensed people providing services at New Zealand immigration practices where a colleague with a licence has signed off their work.

The tribunal case can be found here.


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