Reading the following sentence, attributed to Lyn Sparks of Business Immigration Ltd in a news article today put chills down my spine:
“We get licensed every year don’t we”
Mr Sparks was apparently replying to questions about his activities following complaints lodged by 66 of his clients that he had breached the strict rules licensed immigration advisers must adhere to. His implication appears to be that he must be acting properly because he is licensed each year by the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA).
The article explains:
All workers have similar complaints – primarily that they were charged fees of up to $15,000 for a job in New Zealand through Business Immigration and its overseas agents. Many took out loans in the Philippines to cover the fees, and were paying between 40 per cent and 50 per cent annual interest.
The reason I find this comment attributed to Mr Sparks chilling is that he appears to be using the status afforded by a poorly implemented but well-meaning licensing regime to prey on migrants.
This comment of course is entirely misleading and highlights deep problems with the licensing of immigration advisers which has dogged the system since its introduction in 2009 such as:
- Protection for consumers only applies to immigration services
Section 44 of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 only allows the IAA to accept complaints against advisers regarding “provision of immigration advice”. While you might expect advisers to be held to account for any actions as a professional that’s not the case at all. Advisers getting up to no good in any other area – for example recruitment – have nothing to fear from the IAA as any complaint will be rejected.
History has shown that the IAA will only act (for example to take away a licence) if the individual is convicted of a crime under another piece of legislation. This issue was raised back in 2009 but requires a change in the law and nothing has happened about this.As a result the actions of advisers charging for job search services are not covered at all by the licensing rules with few people realising this, creating opportunities for the unscrupulous.
- No test of competence
While many long-standing advisers are highly competent this competence, effectively assured by licensing, has never actually been tested. When licensing was introduced in 2009 advisers working in the industry were required only to show three case files (which they picked) to be assessed by IAA staff to confirm the adviser’s competence. This alone is a poor test and I understand the IAA staff assessing these applications had no training or background in immigration.
From there to renew their license each year advisers only had to provide one case file (which again they picked) to be assessed by the same IAA staff. Interestingly while this process did check business systems it stopped checking prices charged some time ago following pressure from long-standing advisers who did not appreciate being questioned in this regard.
It wasn’t until 2012 that a level 7 qualification was introduced to provide a test of competence completed to any defined standard, however existing advisers did not have to sit this. Thankfully the IAA is now moving towards a system of randomly checking the work of advisers based on the records of the immigration department. This is excellent as it should identify problems and patterns, but it still will not spot issues like advisers charging excessive fees as suggested in this case.
It will be interesting to see what happens with this story. Mr Sparks has faced complaints and penalties before but is still operating. The IAA has indicated there has been insufficient evidence to take up this case but public awareness of this problem may force their hand.
Under this is the truth that the IAA can only investigate and punish for actions relating purely to the provision of immigration advice and in the past has taken a very narrow view of this, potentially allowing bad advisers to escape punishment as a result.
A strong and robust IAA is badly needed but currently it looks weak and indecisive. Let’s see what is done following these complaints.
Migrant advocate | licensed immigration adviser