Archive for the ‘IAA’ Category

A chilling comment on licensing

March 7, 2015

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.

source

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

Mike Bell

Migrant advocate | licensed immigration adviser

Fully qualified

January 12, 2013

This blog has been a little quiet since September. Apologies to regular readers, we’re now be back up and running.

In July I started the brand new Graduate Certificate in New Zealand Immigration Advice course. This together with running a full-time immigration consultancy and the community website move2nz meant that something had to give as I needed to sleep sometime.

GCNZIA

I am very pleased to have now completed the Graduate Certificate in New Zealand Immigration Advice.

This level 7 course was developed specifically for the Immigration Advisers Authority by the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic in collaboration with the University of Waikato in New Zealand and Victoria University in Australia to ensure graduate advisers are fully qualified with a high level of competence.

The purpose of this qualification is to provide consumers of immigration advice with individuals who have attained sufficient knowledge, practical skills and attitudes to meet the Immigration Advisers Authority requirements for licensing as a New Zealand Immigration Advisor.

Graduates will be able to critically review and evaluate immigration matters to provide immigration advice in accordance with the competencies mandated by the Immigration Advisers Authority.

I jumped at the chance to take this course as soon as it was announced as I had been waiting since the introduction of immigration adviser licensing for a qualification to be created. Studying full-time on top of everything else was tough and the course was very in-depth, but it has been absolutely worth it.

The course of study covered immigration operational instructions in detail as you would expect to ensure competency but also put considerable emphasis on ethics and a deep understanding of the licensed immigration advisers code of conduct and how this affects everything a licensed immigration adviser does – ensuring:

  • each immigration adviser’s technical competence has been tested;
  • they have the tools to ensure they can run their businesses professionally and ethically;
  • greater awareness and closer working with the Immigration department.

On 12 December 2012 alphabetical listings worked in my favour and I became the first person in the world to be awarded this qualification.

Right now there are only 42 other people in the world to have graduated from this course and, as many of these are not yet licensed immigration advisers, I am the only licensed immigration adviser in the South Island to be formally qualified with the GCNZIA.

That’s pretty cool :).

Changing the immigration industry

What will this qualification mean for the industry? We will have to wait and see, but I expect that a level 7 qualification with strong concentration on ethical behaviour and the Immigration Advisers Code of Conduct is likely to be used by migrant consumers are an indication of who they can trust.

Sadly consumers will not be able to see on the register of licensed immigration advisers who holds the GCNZIA, but all you have to do is ask ;).

I am very hopeful that this qualification and stronger application of the code of conduct will ensure more migrant consumers have an ethical and competent adviser helping them move to New Zealand. A big step forward for immigration adviser licensing.

Mike

site architect, move2nz.com
licensed immigration adviser 201200212

Buying your way into New Zealand?

January 26, 2012

Kim Dotcom

Kim Dotcom

A huge story in New Zealand right now is the arrest of Kim Dotcom, a wealthy investor who is being held on charges of reproducing and distributing infringing copies of copyright works – including movies, television programmes, music, software and books.

It’s a big story which has many facets, but in terms of immigration there are a couple of points of interest to me:

1) Dotcom was allowed into the country despite serious previous criminal convictions

I don’t have an issue with taking a decision on previous convictions, especially as full details were given to the immigration officials making the decision and the German system had wiped them anyway.

However in this case the immigration department has created a situation where they have drawn accusations of allowing Dotcom to buy his way past the good character test. Initially he was declined but somehow passed the good character test after paying $10 million to the NZ government. This looks even more shabby when  another government department had decided to block Dotcom from buying land because in their opinion he failed the good character test.

We won’t even get into the revelations that Kim has  diabetes, a slipped disc and hypertension but apparently had no problem with medicals.

The Immigration Minister knew about the decision but was not involved, however the Prime Minister John Key has come out in defence of the decision saying:

“I think because they deemed under the clean slate legislation he effectively didn’t have a record and he wasn’t trying to hide anything, those convictions were a long time ago, so they let him through,” he said.

The idea that admitting your crimes should confirm good character is a little difficult to swallow as is the inconsistency shown in these decisions.

Political support for Dotcom after he splashed cash around is extremely worrying. The government has already reduced the English Language requirements for investors (they only need an IELTS score of 4 now) moving away from concentrating on skilled workers to encouraging investors, and this could be a worrying sign that they are willing to bend the rules more if the right amount of money is on offer.

2) John Banks, then Auckland Mayor, provided Dotcom with immigration advice.

It transpired through the reporting that John Banks, then Mayor of Auckland, had admitted to giving Dotcom immigration advice in relation to his Residence application.

As Mayor of Auckland Mr. Banks may not have been aware that in providing immigration advice he would have been committing a serious criminal offence punishable by up to 7 years in prison – arguably more than Kim .com will face in the USA.

A perfect example of a much needed piece of legislation that was very poorly written and implemented (the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007) was introduced in 2008 that prohibits anyone not licensed or exempt from providing immigration advice.

Mr. Banks is not registered as a licensed immigration adviser and does not appear to fall into any of the classifications of an exempt person as Mayor (although bizarrely as an MP he does as if this somehow gives him magical information on immigration law and policy).

Move2NZ as an independent migration commentator has written to the Immigration Advisers Authority to ask what their response to this will be. Their reply has been that they are thinking about it and will respond next week. Hmmm.

We’ll see what the IAA does/says and what other tidbits of information come out about this case in days to come.

Mike

Immigration advisers – scaremongering for their own financial gain

September 13, 2011

Tammy BellBy Tammy Bell
move2nz expert on Settlement and migration

Recently I have been researching Immigration Advisers, the number of migrants using them and how they promote their services. What I have seen has seriously worried me, prompting me to write this special report.

Misrepresenting risk

What I am concerned to see on many licensed immigration adviser’s websites are statements literally scaremongering for financial gain.

One of the main reasons move2nz was set up was to ensure migrants had good unbiased information from a source which didn’t have a commercial interest in them. This article is intended to stop unethical businesses pulling the wool over your eyes.

Protected migrants

Immigration adviser licensing was introduced in May 2008 to provide protection for vulnerable migrants against fraudulent, corrupt and unethical advisers. The Immigration Advisers Authority was created to license and police advisers and as part of this introduced a Code of Conduct for licensed advisers.

Now licensed advisers know about this and the IAA has been reminding them of their responsibilities – as recently as July this year sent out a reminder to all advisers:

“that a licensed adviser must not, in a false, fraudulent or deceptive manner, misrepresent or promote himself or herself, or his or her company.

“To ensure that you meet your obligations under the code, you should regularly review your advertising and company website to ensure that the information is up to date and accurate.”

What my research shows is that this message is not getting through to some licensed advisers who appear to be actively misleading potential clients to create fear and increase business.

Examples

Here are some examples taken this week from immigration adviser websites:

1) “Did you know that up to 30 to 50% of non-agent assisted online and DIY applications FAIL?”

Wrong – in 2010/11 only 13.5 percent of non-agent assisted DIY applications failed and in 2009/10 it was just 12 percent. See below how this compares to agent assisted applications, the results might surprise you.

  • Overall, 47,931 applications were lodged;
  • Using a licensed adviser:
    • 10,394 of applications used a licensed adviser (21.7%);
    • 85.5% of those were successful;
  • Not using an agent:
    • 32,058 of applications did not use an agent (66.9%);
    • 86.5% of those were successful.

So last year most people (across all streams) entered their application without the help of an agent and this group had the highest rate of success.

Now to be fair many licensed advisers specialise in dealing with complex and difficult cases and the success rate of simple cases will always be higher than for the really difficult ones. However this does raise questions about many advisers who claim a 97% or better success rate.

Permanent Residence Applications
Exempt Advisers

(Click for enlargement)

It’s pretty worrying for licensed advisers to claim a success rate that high because either they are lying or some other licensed advisers have success rates much lower than for DIY cases!

One of the issues which has been highlighted through this research is that there is another group with a much lower success rate than either DIY applicants or those using an adviser:
exempt people.

These include among others family members, lawyers, MPs and Citizen’s Advice staff. Nearly 1 in five of these applications (19.5% in 2010/11) failed and that is something that needs looking into!

2) “What the public do not have access to are the extensive Operational Manuals made available by the Immigration Services to migration consultants.”

Wrong – the Immigration department’s Operations Manual is freely available to all, you can search through it here, but you might not know that without sources of information like move2nz.

3) “At a recent meeting with Immigration New Zealand staff in Auckland one of the Branch Managers told us that 98% of Family Visa applications are incorrect, with more than half being rejected straight away because of this.”

I can’t comment on what was said in the meeting, but these details are clearly wrong as in 2010/11 over 92 percent of all applications lodged in the Family Category were approved!

  • Overall, 10,352 applications were made in the family category
  • Using a licensed adviser:
    • 1,288 of applications used a licensed adviser (12.4%)
    • 92% of those were successful
  • Not using an agent:
    • 8,210 of applications did not use an agent (79.3%)
    • 93.8% of those were successful

Again, the majority of applicants did not use a licensed adviser and those not using an adviser had a higher rate of success.

My reply to the claims being made by these advisers (and please excuse my language) is “Total BOLLOCKS”.

Getting to the truth

Searching through immigration statistics is not for everyone, but it’s something Mike and I have got used to and now do a lot. I hope what we have discovered – that some licensed immigration advisors create a false impression of your chances of a successful application to line their own pockets – will give you food for thought before parting with your hard earned cash.

Now I have to reiterate that not all licensed advisers make false claims. In my opinion there are good ones out there and on complex cases (e.g. business visas, instances where applicants have a weakness in their application that needs to be argued and situations where the immigration department has made a ruling you disagree with) it really pays to have a professional fighting your corner.

The vast majority of applicants however have simple applications – you either qualify or you don’t. Apart from checking with a professional if you are worried about something in my opinion very few of these applicants benefit from using a professional adviser as confirmed in official government statistics.

Making a difference: what can we do about this??

Seeing this rubbish being flouted on advisers websites Mike and I really wanted to do something about it – move2nz after all is about making a difference. So Mike wrote to the IAA on Sunday (11th September) to ask about this problem, worried that if licensed advisers got caught doing this they would just get a slap on the wrist and be told to correct it.

We were impressed to get a fast and clear reply back the following day confirming:

“If you have concerns about a licensed adviser and consider that they are misrepresenting themselves, their business, their clients immigration opportunities or NZ’s immigration requirements then this may be a breach of the Code of Conduct and grounds for a complaint to be referred to the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.”

The email confirmed that the IAA do not mediate in matters like this, instead the IAA refer cases to the Disciplinary Tribunal which acts like a court to assess the problem and if necessary punish the adviser. This is a much better situation than we expected.

Following a link kindly provided by the IAA we confirmed that in fact one case has already been heard by the Tribunal. Deng, a licensed adviser, falsely claimed she had a Master of Business Administration Degree. The Adviser was found guilty of a breach of the code of conduct, her license was cancelled and she was ordered to pay $1,500.

Now this is a real result and something we would like to see more of!

Summary

The bad news is that we have uncovered licensed immigration advisers misleading the public to build fear in order to raise profits.

The good news is that we have also come to realise that there are laws in place to stop this.

You can make a difference and so can we. If you see a licensed adviser making a claim you know (or believe) to be false you know what to do – make a complaint to the IAA (just fill in the form here) and take the unethical advisers out of the industry.

I’ll be putting together complaints on all my examples (and other sites I picked up as part of my research) as soon as our September newsletter is sent out!

Migrants defeat bad immigration adviser

September 5, 2011

I am delighted to offer my congratulations to the Whiles-Clarry family, members of move2nz.com since June 2009, who have successfully used the Immigration Advisers Licensing legislation to have the license of a dishonest and incompetent immigration adviser cancelled.

Through their efforts and diligence they have helped protect other migrants from the same problems. Well done!

Read the full story
I have been following this case all the way through and present the whole story of this brave family’s fight in a full article on move2nz.com here spread over 6 pages.

In this article I have included a summary of this family’s fight, success and anger at the adviser’s claims.

Congratulations to the Immigration Advisers Authority
I bet a lot of the long term readers of move2nz are picking themselves off the floor and saying “WHAT!?” (as move2nz and I have a little ‘history’ with the IAA), but I am serious.

Congratulations are in order to both the IAA and Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal and I have sent my congratulations personally to Barry Smedts, Registrar of the IAA because of their part in this ruling.

Immigration Advisers

In 2009 new legislation was introduced to block anyone not licensed from providing immigration advice. The IAA act as a licensing office and police force, investigating complaints and passing serious cases to the Tribunal which acts as a court.

While some Immigration Advisers are excellent move2nz had collected dozens of horror stories. As a result we were very supportive of a system providing protection for migrants and somewhere for us to send these complaints.

However we have been critical of this system since its inception, like many immigration advisers, because the IAA appeared to provide no real protection for migrants.

Glen Standing
Glen Standing

What we had been waiting for was action to start weeding out the bad apples. Our congratulations are presented today because for the first time the system has done just that. A migrant has complained and as a result the adviser, Glen Standing of Golden Sands Immigration and Living New Zealand has been held to account.

The Tribunal has for the first time imposed serious penalties, and in addition to losing his immigration adviser’s license Standing has been directed to refund fees, pay compensation and penalties of just under $20,000.

This is the first real success story for the IAA and Tribunal, a major step forward in the fight to protect migrants against rogue advisers. As all of our concerns about the system being set up were valid and well-founded it’s only fair to offer congratulations to these departments when they get it right.

 


A common tale

Like many before them, everything went well with Golden Sands for the family until they arrived in New Zealand. Vulnerable and alone in a new country customer service from the company went downhill fast and the job search help they had paid for was almost nonexistent. In the end it took over 21 weeks for Stephen to get a job, costing the family thousands in lost income and accommodation.

Despite this Golden Sands started demanding the second half of the fee owed to them and threatened to withhold documents and a passport until the money was paid.

Christine telephoned the immigration department and discovered that almost all the immigration advice Standing had given her was wrong, meaning they had experienced months of delays and thousands in extra costs simply because of their adviser. They lodged a complaint with the IAA in September 2010.

The Ruling

A final decision was reached on 30th June 2011 ruling against Standing on all counts. The Tribunal found that he was in breach of the code of conduct all licensed immigration advisers need to comply with, with the Chairman described this as a “grave lapse from professional standards“. Standing was ordered to pay penalties of $2,000 and compensation, loss of income and a refund of fees to the family totalling $19,458.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. On August 18th Standing wrote to the Tribunal and the family stating that he was liquidating his company and so wouldn’t be able to pay the penalties and compensation! This appears to be incorrect as you’ll see in the full article.

Ruined by the Tribunal

The next day an article appeared in the Nelson Mail giving voice to Standing who claimed ‘I’ve been ruined by tribunal. The article contained factual errors and presented Standing as being forced to close his business, making his staff redundant, as a result of what he considered to be ‘despicable’ handling of the case.

However Standing’s framing of the situation appears to be misleading and incorrect as the Tribunal gave him the option of obtaining a provisional license to re-enter the immigration business under supervision.

Standing’s claim that he couldn’t continue operating as there are no other licensed advisers in Golden Bay to supervise him is at odds with the IAA’s supervision policy which states that an adviser can be supervised even by a licensed immigration adviser in another country:

So Standing could have applied to be supervised by someone outside Golden Bay and had no reason to close his business at all.

Summary

The IAA and Tribunal have removed one of the immigration advisers we have the most negative stories about. There has even been another ruling against Standing in which he was ordered to pay $1,500 to another migrant family had problems getting a refund.
Now you have an avenue to take if you encounter problems with a licensed immigration adviser make sure to lodge a complaint if you need the IAA’s help. It might take a while, but it’s always worth fighting your corner and now you have a fighting chance.

What have you done with Mike?
Before you start wondering who I am and what I’ve done with Mike, we still do have issues with the agressive way the IAA has dealt with blogs and move2nz, as well as their lack of understanding around what constitutes immigration advice (illegal for people like me without a license) and settlement advice and support (perfectly legal).

I am still fighting to force the IAA to repair the damage they did in attacking move2nz, a move which caused the cancellation of our UK Seminars and closure of our Migrant Centre. All I can legally say at this stage is that ‘settlement negotiations are being advanced through legal channels’. I’ll let you know what happens.

A meeting with the Immigration Advisers Authority

December 24, 2010

TV3 interview July 2009

TV3 interview July 2009

Many reading this blog may not be aware of move2nz’s fight for justice, but it still continues.

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!

Enough’s enough
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.

Protected Migrants?

November 16, 2010

As reported on move2nz, the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) was launched on 5th May 2008 to “protect migrants and advisers alike“.

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

In May 2009 the legislation for the IAA to police – the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act – came into force requiring advisers operating in New Zealand to be licensed. A year later this requirement was spread to all advisers around the world.

In May 2009 there were 184 advisers registered with the Authority and, noting that some of the worse offenders in the industry were listed as licensed I expressed concern that the IAA’s tagline of “Licensed Professionals = Protected Migrants” would mislead migrants into thinking they were safe.

18 months on we take a look at the steps that have been made to protect migrants.

Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA)

The IAA works to administrate licensing for advisers, investigate complaints against licensed advisers and also prosecute people without licenses who provide tailored immigration advice or present themselves as licensed.

In their October newsletter the IAA reported that they had achieved an additional 316 licenses in the past 18 months with 500 advisers now practicing with a license.

We’ll look at the Authority’s costs and performance against government targets in a future article.

Protection
So how has the Authority helped protect migrants? Well, while they protect us from anyone providing tailored immigration advice without a license, they also have gone to great lengths to protect you from immigration information too.

Sources of immigration information are perfectly legal and cover a massive range of subjects connected with migration.

Oddly the first acts taken by the IAA appear to have been attempts to silence blogs, forums and other sources of useful related information. Arguably removing these sources of information and networking, rather than providing protection, made migration more dangerous and difficult for migrants.

Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal (IACDT)

While the IAA act as a police force collecting evidence on breaches of the Act the tribunal is the equivalent of the justice system’s court. No Tribunal, no protection for migrants or law-abiding advisers

Appointment of a chairperson for the IACDT was only announced on 13th October 2010 by the Ministers of Justice (Simon Power) and Immigration (Jonathan Coleman), oddly just one day before a TVNZ news report on the IAA and IACDT aired.

The TV report, which covered some of the problems move2nz had had with the IAA, also discussed the Tribunal and the fact that it was not yet hearing cases investigated by the IAA which had been languishing for months.

In addressing this issue Barry Smedts, Registrar of the IAA, had this to say:

“The first complaint was sent to the Tribunal in December last year, and there are now 23 complaints with the Tribunal. We acknowledge that the absence of a chair has created uncertainty for those advisers with outstanding complaints against them.”

Hmm, so protecting advisers (who support the IAA financially through their licensing fees) but no mention of protecting migrants. Mr. Smedts appears to have forgotten half of the IAA tagline “Licensed Professionals = Protected Migrants”.

The effect on migrants
Having spoken to a move2nz member who is one of the we cases waiting for a hearing I discovered they have already been waiting a year. No mention seems to have been made of the months of massive financial and mental suffering experienced by families like this at the hands of a licensed adviser but I am sure you will join Mr. Smedts in expressing sympathy for the uncertainty experienced by their adviser (who turned what should have been a simple migration application into a living nightmare).

In the latest IAA newsletter I found an amazing quote by the IAA Registrar:

“Complaints about licensed advisers is a relatively new aspect of the practical application of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007”

I assume that this was specifically what this department had been set up to do (“investigate and take enforcement action in relation to offences”). It appears that they are now only just getting to grips with this work and, despite their trigger-happy attitude to attacking non-advisers, are a little unnerved by the prospect of actually taking action against advisers they have licensed.

Chocolate teapotSo, after 18 months what is the rating we would give the IAA and IACDT for protecting migrants? The phrase “as useful as a chocolate teapot” comes to mind.

Facts

  • The IAA slogan Licensed Advisors = Protected Migrants
  • The Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) launched on 5th May 2009
  • There are 500 licensed advisers according to their October 2010 Newsletter
  • The first complaint was sent to the Tribunal in December 2009
  • There are currently 23 complaints with the Tribunal

move2nz on TV One news 15th October!

October 14, 2010

Updated date

move2nz will be on TV tomorrow night, if you get a chance tune in!

TV One has been interested for a while: in September ‘09 hearing about our story reporter Kim Vinnell put in an Official Information request to the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) asking why they had attacked me and move2nz.

She was told at the time they would not give out information on individual cases and the Authority’s official media response attempted to downplay the situation with misinformation referencing complaints which the IAA has now apparently ‘lost’.

On Tuesday Kim telephoned to see how we were getting on 15 months later, what had happened with the investigation through the Ombudsman and whether we would be prepared to publicly talk about it.

“Yes!” we said.

With months dragging by, the Authority refusing to meet with us and no resolution in sight now seems like a good time to start speaking out about this injustice and abuse of power. Let the Department and Ministers understand that we will not be silenced through threats and bullying and that we will get to the bottom of this.

 

So yesterday the TV One News Crew came to our house for an interview about what had happened to us at the hands of the IAA, their attack, failure to explain their actions, how it affected us and what we have discovered since through the Official Information Act.

Apparently the IAA has refused to be interviewed on the basis that we have a complaint against them before the government’s Ombudsman. This is totally ridiculous as the complaint and investigation relate to the IAA’s failure to release information and so should be no barrier to discussing this issue. We haven’t entered an official complaint against them for their unexplained actions yet so this looks like avoidance behavior to me.

I am not surprised the IAA have refused to take part as they will not want to have to explain that the only active papers in their file related not to any illegal activity, but to my appearance on TV news in July 2009 criticising the Immigration Minister.

Free speech is not supposed to be a crime in New Zealand.

We have proof that the Authority’s attack was completely unjustified, without a shred of evidence, sign of any investigation or any reason at all beyond speaking out in the media.

However their actions caused:

  • The complete destruction of NZ’s most effective settlement support service;
  • Damage to our hard-earned international reputation which was shredded;
  • The end of our relationship with the immigration department as they believed the IAA’s accusations;
  • Devastation to the website which funded our free services through loss of our sponsors, advertising and other income;
  • Huge personal debts as we fought to cover the organisations costs, refusing to walk away and fighting bankruptcy;
  • Months of fear that we would lose everything including our home;
  • We became virtual recluses for 9 months fearing any contact with migrants might be illegal and see me sent to jail;
  • Tammy suffered badly from panic attacks and had to stop work for months;
  • Stress that put a strain on our marriage and family lives;
  • And placing us in the terrible position of having to say to desperate people who came to us for help that we couldn’t do anything.

The only reason we didn’t lose everything was because we worked like crazy to get through this and keep move2nz running.

 

We will continue to fight until we get answers, justice and an apology. The Authority, rather than making migrants safer has been actively working to make them more vulnerable, removing any independent support including many others who used to make a real difference.

The interview will be shown on TV One 6pm News tomorrow (Friday 15th Oct). I will also add a link on move2nz.com so this can be viewed online for all of you not in NZ or who miss the report.

Hopefully soon we will have some movement on this crazy situation which has dragged out for over 15 months!