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Launches of Immigration Advisers Authority

5 May, 2008

Cosgrove officially launches the Immigration Advisers Authority

Venue: Room 2.03 Executive Wing, Parliament Buildings, Wellington

Time: 5.30pm, Monday 5 May 2008

The Registrar of the Immigration Advisers Authority Barry Smedts; the Chief Executive of the Department of Labour, Christopher Blake; the former Minister of Immigration, the Hon Aussie Malcolm; Peter Cotton, the Director of RMS Refugee Resettlement; Richard Howard, the Chair of the New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment; the Acting Chief Executive of the Citizens Advice Bureau, Ken Spencer; members of the immigration advisory industry; migrant community representatives: special guests; ladies and gentlemen.

Good afternoon and a warm welcome to you all. I am pleased to be here today to officially launch the licensing of Immigration Advisers in New Zealand.

This is an important step for New Zealand. Immigration is critical to New Zealand’s economy. Migrants drive innovation, give our businesses international connections, and provide a range of skills to transform our economic landscape.

Immigration has also long been a cornerstone of our national identity, enhancing our social and cultural diversity, strengthening families and communities and promoting New Zealand's international interests.

New Zealanders recognise this and see immigration as a vital part of our culture. However, they also look to the government to manage the risks inherent in the immigration industry.

Getting to today’s launch has taken some time. Over a number of years, concerns had been raised about the varying quality of immigration advice being given to prospective migrants. Many cases were reported of migrants and refugees who had been seriously disadvantaged through poor or fraudulent immigration advice.

The idea of licensing Immigration Advisers was first formally mooted in June 2000. Research was then undertaken by the government, followed by consultation with the industry during 2003 - 2004. Following this, the Immigration Advisers Licensing Bill was put before the House in June 2005 and passed into law in May 2007.

Under the new law, anyone who provides advice about New Zealand immigration matters will have to be licensed (unless they are exempt). By making Immigration Advisers a regulated profession, the Act seeks to protect new and potential migrants. It also supports Advisers who work ethically and within the law, and therefore enhances the reputation and integrity of New Zealand’s entire immigration system.

I cannot stress enough what an important change this is for the whole sector. Before the new law was passed, anyone could call themselves an Adviser, whether or not they were competent to give immigration advice. The actions of some dodgy operators caused serious harm to a number of migrants, and these “cowboys” also damaged the reputations of legitimate, professional Advisers.

The types of offences committed by these cowboy operators were serious. A Department of Labour report identified problems such as the lodging of unfounded/abusive refugee status claims without the client's knowledge; inaccurate advice about immigration policy leading to poor and costly decisions; the theft of money and documents; the failure to lodge applications and appeals; the failure to pass on information from the Department to the client, and Advisers knowingly submitting false information or fraudulent documents to the Department.

Some applicants suffered serious financial loss due to high fees and unsuccessful settlement in New Zealand. Some also suffered damage to careers, family dislocation, significant personal hardship and were unable to gain approval to re-enter New Zealand. The cumulative harm caused was in many cases significant, and irreversible in others.

The government’s move to stamp out these unscrupulous agents benefits us all.

Migrants are making a huge commitment when they uproot their lives and decide to apply to make New Zealand their new home. It is not an easy decision to distance yourself from your family and friends, and all you hold dear. And although we know we live in the best country in the world, our relative geographic isolation and small size can be a daunting prospect for some migrants.

Given those challenges, the last thing you want to worry about is whether or not your Adviser knows what he or she is talking about.

People who choose to live and work in New Zealand deserve certainty about the immigration advice they receive. They need to know that they will get correct and relevant information, and that their best interests will be served. Licensing will help make that happen.

Licensing will also ensure that Advisers are supported so that they can give their clients the sound advice and professional service they deserve. To get and keep a licence, Advisers will have to prove their immigration expertise by meeting competency standards. Licensed Advisers will also have to adhere to a code of conduct, which will increase industry-wide professionalism and ethical behaviour.

The new law provides for stiff penalties for fraudulent or unlicensed Advisers. Licensed Advisers who break the law can have their licence revoked, be fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to two years. Unlicensed people who are caught providing immigration advice can be sentenced to up to 7 years in prison and/or be fined up to $100,000. The Act also allows the courts to award reparation to victims. It all adds up to an accessible, transparent avenue of redress for migrants and a high level of protection for Advisers who practise fairly and within the law.

Clearly, licensing is going to be of real benefit to migrants, our communities and honest, ethical Immigration Advisers who want their professionalism recognised. Immigration Adviser licensing offers consumers protection and support for true industry professionals, and I am proud to be the Minister responsible for this very positive change.

It is with great pleasure that I officially launch the Immigration Advisers Authority.

ENDS

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