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Strict new rules for immigration advisers


5 May 2008

Strict new rules for immigration advisers


The launch of a more disciplined approach to protecting migrants from fraudulent, corrupt and unethical behaviour of unscrupulous immigration advisers takes effect from today (Mon 5 May).

The Immigration Advisers Authority officially opened for business today and Registrar Barry Smedts says the licensing of immigration advisers will protect migrants and advisers alike, as well as enhance New Zealand’s reputation as a quality destination.

“Previously, we have had an unregulated environment where anyone could call themselves an immigration adviser and offer advice whether or not they knew anything about immigration requirements,” says Mr Smedts.

“There have been plenty of examples over the years of a few rogue operators destroying the financial and personal hopes of potential immigrants to New Zealand through fraudulent, corrupt and unethical means, by masquerading as qualified and competent immigration advisers.

“Now we have a licensing regime in place which will not only protect vulnerable migrants, but also enhance the reputation of the industry.”

The Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 requires anyone providing New Zealand immigration advice to be licensed by May 4, 2009, meeting competency standards and adhering to a code of conduct.

There are numerous categories for exemption (see backgrounder). Individuals or family members passing on publicly-available information on immigration do not need to be licensed.

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Penalties include up to seven years imprisonment and/or fines up to $100,000 for non-licensed offenders, as well as the possibility of court-ordered reparation payments. For licensed advisers, there are penalties of up to two years imprisonment and/or fines of up to $10,000 for breaches of the Act.

For immigration advisers based outside of New Zealand, licensing will be mandatory from 4 May 2010.

Licensing for advisers both on and off-shore will be administered by the Immigration Advisers Authority, an independent authority located in Auckland.

Mr Smedts emphasises that the vast majority of immigration advisers are good, ethical and reliable professional advisers, but the few rogue operators have caused such damage that licensing of the profession is necessary to protect both migrants and the profession itself.

“Now, migrants can be confident they are getting the correct and best information, whether they work with a licensed Adviser,” says Mr Smedts.

“Creating professional standards for Immigration Advisers will help protect migrants against poor advice or unprofessional behaviour.

“Equally, immigration advisers who give their clients sound advice and professional service will also benefit, through new continuing professional development programmes, and recognition of their work in a regulated profession”.

The Authority will keep a publicly available register of licensed immigration advisers and establish a complaints procedure. Detailed information on the Authority is available at www.iaa.govt.nz

ENDS

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Background Information

What does this new law mean in practice?
Under the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act, anyone who gives immigration advice about New Zealand immigration matters will need to be licensed, unless exempt. However, there is a range of things one can do to assist migrants that is not considered “advice” (such as providing publicly available information, pointing a migrant to a website, directing someone to Immigration New Zealand or to a licensed Adviser, translation or interpretation, or settlement services). If assistance does not go beyond these areas, or if you qualify for an exemption, a licence is not needed.

Who is exempt from having to be licensed?
Certain people will be exempt from licensing, but can still provide advice. These include:
• People who provide immigration advice in an informal or family context only, so long as the advice is not provided systematically or for a fee
• Current members of Parliament and their staff who provide immigration advice within the scope of their employment agreement
• Foreign diplomats and consular staff accorded protection under certain Acts;
• Public service employees who provide immigration advice within the scope of their employment agreement
• Lawyers
• People working (either employed or volunteers) for community law centres, where at least one lawyer is involved with the centre
• People working (either employed or volunteers) for the Citizens Advice Bureaux
• People who provide immigration advice offshore who advise on student visa and permit applications only
• People can also exempted by Regulations

Others might be prohibited or restricted from becoming licensed, such as someone convicted of an offence against the Immigration Act or an undischarged bankrupt.

Why is this new law to license immigration advisers needed?
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 a small number of poor practitioners have seriously disadvantaged some migrants, as well as damaging the reputations of legitimate Advisers.
By making Immigration Advisers a licensed, recognised profession, migrants can trust that they will be provided with the correct and best information, whether they
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receive it directly from Immigration New Zealand or from an Adviser. As well as protecting migrants, the new law protects Advisers who are above board and practise fairly. The law also supports new continuing professional development programmes and recognition of their work as a regulated profession.

What are examples of problems/issues that highlighted the need for this law?
A report by the Department of Labour appraising the immigration advice industry identified complaints about immigration advisers, including:
• lodging unfounded/abusive refugee status claims without the client's knowledge
• inaccurate advice about immigration policy leading to poor and costly decisions
• theft of money and documents
• failing to lodge applications and appeals
• failing to pass on information from the Department to the client
• knowingly submitting false information or fraudulent documents to the Department

In some cases of incompetent or unethical practices by an Adviser, 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.

What are the penalties for those found breaking the law?
Penalties include up to seven years imprisonment and/or fines up to $100,000 for non-licensed offenders, as well as the possibility of court-ordered reparation payments. For licensed advisors, there are penalties of up to two years imprisonment and/or fines of up to $10,000 for breaches of the Act.


When does the law take effect?
Immigration Advisers in New Zealand must have a licence by 4 May 2009.
Offshore Advisers giving advice on New Zealand immigration matters must have a licence by 4 May 2010.
Licences will have to be renewed annually.
Licences can only be held by individuals, not organisations, and they can’t be transferred to anyone else.

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What does an Adviser have to do to get a licence?
To obtain and hold a licence, Advisers will have to meet competency standards, adhere to a code of conduct, and be "fit" to practise. An applicant’s personal history will be considered, including criminal convictions, immigration offences, bankruptcy or other issues that might make them unsuitable to provide immigration advice and receive a licence.
A licence will be granted once all the conditions are met and any fees paid. The competency standards and code of conduct are both available on www.iaa.govt.nz

How will people know whether an Adviser is licensed?
The Immigration Advisers Authority will keep an online register of licensed Immigration Advisers. It will also list people who have been refused a licence and Advisers who have had their licence revoked. This register will be readily accessible by the public via the IAA website www.iaa.govt.nz
People can also phone 0508 IAA IAA (NZ only) or write at PO Box 6222 Auckland, 1141. Once licensed, each adviser will have to display their licence and Code of Conduct at their place of business.

What if I have a complaint about an Adviser?
Anyone can raise a complaint about a licensed Adviser with the Immigration Advisers Authority. The Authority will also take action against unlicensed Advisers.
For more information, please visit www.iaa.govt.nz

ENDS

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