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Licensing helps immigration credibility

7 July 2008

Licensing helps immigration credibility

Licensing immigration advisers is a three-way winning situation for the individual advisers, their industry and New Zealand, the Registrar of Immigration Advisers said today.

The Registrar, Barry Smedts, made the comment while presenting New Zealand’s first Immigration Advisers licence to Auckland immigration adviser, Tony Tse.

Licensing of immigration advisers comes under a new law which requires anyone giving immigration advice to be licensed by 4 May 2009.

Mr Smedts said licensing of immigration advisers was at the heart of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 which sought to bring regulation to the industry and to protect the consumer rights of migrants.

“While this is an important occasion for Tony, personally, it is also important for the professionalism and credibility of the immigration advice industry and for New Zealand’s international standing as a migrant destination,” said Mr Smedts.

He said New Zealand had previously an unregulated environment where anyone could call themselves an immigration adviser and offer advice, whether or not they knew anything about immigration requirements.

“Now, with the Immigration Advisers Authority in place and managing the licensing process, we have a system in place which not only sets new standards of professionalism for advisers and protects vulnerable migrants, but also enhances the reputation of the industry.”

Mr Smedts said Mr Tse was an “excellent example” of someone who was prepared to work hard to meet the requirements for licensing.

Mr Tse said the licensing of immigration advisers was a positive move that would scare-off unprofessional and unethical advisers to protect migrants from receiving bad advice.

“The process was time-consuming, but straight-forward and well worth the effort and I strongly encourage my fellow immigration advisers to become licensed,” he said.

“I found the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) testing process a good motivation to upskill my written and verbal English. This is important in a profession where we need to communicate complex issues.

“In addition to the obvious benefit to the individual immigration adviser from a business sense, licensing will be good for the credibility of the industry,” he said.

Mr Smedts said Mr Tse had demonstrated a strong commitment to licensing process.

“Tony was a member of our original working group that trialled the competency standards and processes for licensing and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the licensing system,” he said.

The Immigration Advisers Authority administers the Act which requires anyone giving immigration advice to be licensed (unless exempt) by 4 May 2009. People giving advice offshore will need to be licensed by 4 May 2010.

Mr Smedts says the Authority ensures applicants meet competency standards before granting a licence and licensed advisers must abide by the Authority’s Code of Conduct.

The Authority has a register of licensed immigration advisers on its website. It will also receive complaints about licensed immigration advisers and, if justified, the complaint will be forwarded to an independent Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.

Penalties for breaching the Code 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.

Details about immigration adviser licensing can be found on the Authority’s website www.ia.govt.nz


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
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.

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 Authority’s 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


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