I have been pretty quiet on this issue since my last update in July titled Happy Anniversary, only mentioning our fight in my October article move2nz in the news when TVNZ ran an update on what had happened.
I promised an update when something happened and, well something has happened – things are starting to get very interesting!
What’s it all about?
For anyone coming across this topic for the first time you might not realise that move2nz used to be much more than the website move2nz.com. Until July 2009 Tammy and I ran and funded a range of unique services including a Migrant Centre in Christchurch offering free settlement support to several thousand familes each year.
But in July 2009 everything except the website was closed because the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) served a notice on me: a bombshell which rocked move2nz. In a nutshell the notice told me that I had broken the law (by presenting myself as a licensed adviser and providing immigration advice) and could go to jail for seven years if I did it again.
No smoke without fire
I had been in the middle of a media campaign through print, radio and TV to draw attention to what the immigration department was doing to what turned out to be nearly a thousand families – kicking them out of the country.
Naturally I asked what I was alleged to have done and unbelievably have been fighting ever since for an answer as the IAA just wouldn’t tell me. In self defence we had to close our Centre and cancel our overseas Seminars until we got to the truth.
This was devastating to move2nz as many people just assumed the IAA were correct. This included not only businesses but also Immigration department staff we had been working with for years.
Many people just assumed there was ‘no smoke without fire’ and said it served me right.
Getting to the truth
It’s been a long hard road fighting for 18 months to get information from the IAA. When they wouldn’t reply to me last year I asked for a copy of their file on me to see if I could work out what I was supposed to have done.
The IAA withheld nearly all (87%) of the file and I was forced to complain in October 2009 to the government’s watchdog the Ombudsman to ask for the documents. Of course after I complained the Registrar of the IAA refused to meet with me leaving this the only way to get information.
Owing to pressure from the Chief Ombudsman the IAA have gradually been forced to hand the information over bit by bit and this week we received the Ombudsman’s final report which upholds nearly all of my complaints. The Authority couldn’t block us any more and had to send us the information we needed.
Finally we understand
It made for interesting reading I can tell you and we were finally able to confirm our suspicians that the Authority had no basis to state I had broken the law.
Our case was strengthened when we asked for papers from the office of the Minister of Immigration which showed that important information had never been reported to the Minister, the evidence collected “circumstantial at best” and the reason for sending the original notice “flawed”.
So that was it – the Authority couldn’t tell me how I had broken the law because I hadn’t! So why the hell hadn’t they said so? From the files we could see that when the Authority had been told we would have to stop running our services to avoid prosecution until they told us what was going the team leader had actually directed the ‘investigator’ not to answer!
I wrote to the Registrar of the Authority Barry Smedts listing in date order the failures of the department he was responsible for in handling this case. To ensure the Minister knew exactly what was going on I sent him a copy of the letter and also sent copies to three MPs who know about the case and two reporters who have run stories about the case – Lincoln Tan of the NZ Herald and Kim Vinnel of TVNZ.
Within a week the Minister wrote to tell me that we had what we had been trying to get for a year: a meeting with the IAA. I have to hand it to Jonathan Coleman, although I have been critcising virtually everything he has done since he took the job in November 2008 he came through with this.
Meeting with the IAA
Tammy and I knew we had to be ready and prepared. In fact we spent several days preparing for the meeting – cross-referencing everything and putting together a set of questions which would leave us in no doubt as to what had happened and why.
We also asked our lawyer to accompany us for legal advice and asked Hon Lianne Dalziel, MP for Christchurch East to lend her considerable expertise to the discussion. As Lianne, a long time supporter of move2nz’s work in helping skilled migrants, was the Minister of Immigration who started off the legislation which created the IAA her attendance was an incredible help.
The meeting was held on Tuesday 21st December with Barry Smedts (IAA Registrar), George Mason (acting Deputy Chief Executive, Legal and International Group), and Catherine Albiston (IAA Senior Adviser Operational Policy). A conversation with Catherine had actually been the reason we got a meeting last year with another senior member of the IAA
Unfortunately the meeting had to be confidential to ensure frank discussion so I can’t give you a blow by blow account of what happened during the 4½ hours.
A great result
Suffice it to say that I got to ask some serious questions and put the Authority under the spotlight. Tammy got to tell the Authority staff just how massively this travesty has hurt us emotionally and financially – it’s not much fun to live in fear of losing everything including your home for a whole year.
Lianne did a fanastic job in keeping the meeting positive and moving forwards to a suitable resolution. Leroy our lawyer did a great job just being there as it turned out he had flu but had come because we needed him! I must admit that I was impressed by Catherine who was extremely competent and also with George Mason who handled this difficult situation extremely well.
I’m not sure what I am allowed to say at this stage, but Tammy and I were delighted with the progress made. We’re not finished yet, there is a way to go, but we have many of the answers we were looking for and the Authority will be putting together a public statement about the findings of the meeting to be released in the New Year.
Thanks to everyone who has sent messages of support to keep us going through this difficult time, especially our amazing friends Kim and George who were the reason we made it through last Christmas. Thanks to Lianne and many other people behind the scenes including Jim Anderton our local MP who have given us advice and support.
After living a nightmare for 18 months Tammy and I both feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off us. We would celebrate but we’re too tired.
What this does mean is that 2011 is going to be great year for move2nz and we hope to be able to lend our support to the IAA to help them get the rogue licensed immigration advisers closed down. I’d call that a win-win situation.