Posts Tagged ‘mike bell’

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.


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


Too fat to live in NZ?

July 27, 2013

Mike BellIt’s been a while since I wrote a blog but spotted this it today’s Press newspaper.

I often get asked about medical issues affecting immigration applications – especially grey areas like obesity. While most immigration requirements are quite clear this is can be a very uncertain area.

This article is intended to help migrants prepare for success ;o).


Too fat to live here?

A medically obese South African man has been told he is too fat for New Zealand, despite losing 30 kilograms since he moved to Christchurch six years ago.Albert Buitenhuis and his wife, Marthie, are now facing deportation after their work visas were declined because of his 130kg weight.

Immigration authorities cited the demands his obesity could place on New Zealand health services.


Immigration medicals
When you are making immigration applications you will be asked for a medical for any visa which will take you over 12 months in New Zealand. This is to test if you have an acceptable standard of health.

What they’re actually looking at is any likely cost to New Zealand. If you are applying for residence this is classified as $41,000 over the next five years (A4.10.2).

The process is:

  1. Case officer
    your application goes in to the department and is allocated out to a case officer. As they are not medically trained they send any medical issue to an external expert to be assessed
  2. Medical assessor
    This expert checks the papers and makes a decision on how much you are likely to cost NZ. The important point is that they can only go by the papers provided as they will never meet you
  3. Decision
    The case then goes back to the case-officer who makes a decision on your application

If you do have a medical condition (or your children will need educational support at school due to a learning difficulty or condition) it is vital to:

  • Provide as much documentary evidence as possible; and
  • clearly quantify any cost

If you have not provided clear evidence about the costs of your condition the medical assessor has to make a judgement call on your long term prognosis – they will be looking at the next 5 years.

You do not want that because the medical assessor has limited information. Much better to give them reports from experts who have examined you to ensure the medical assessor has really good information. This also means you have a reasonable idea of your chances of success before you lodge the application which is vital.

This is an area where it can be a good idea to get a professional opinion, calling on previous case knowledge to give you a sound idea of whether you are likely to be successful.

Please take medical issues seriously. Any application submitted to the immigration department (whether entered by you or with professional help) that includes a medical issue (or even the possibility of one) should leave nothing to chance.

Careful research and preparation to ensure the medical assessor has everything they need to agree you have an acceptable standard of health is a minimum.

If you find through this research that you may not have an acceptable standard of health at least you will know the risk you are taking before you start out.

Mike Bell

Mike is architect of migrant community, a migrant advocate, and a qualified and licensed immigration adviser.

Fighting an unjust deportation

September 16, 2012

Cherie Vermaak - copyright Dean Kozniac, Fairfax Media

(Click for enlargement)

As our regular members will know, move2nz is a lot more than just and through our history we have fought many times to ensure migrants acting in good faith are given a fair go by the immigration system.

Through move2nz we have been working to highlight the kind of risks faced by migrants on temporary visas while in New Zealand to help ensure people are prepared and protected against what can be serious risks.

Despite our best efforts sometimes people can quickly find themselves in terrible situations and this is exactly what happened to the Vermaak family from South Africa.

A deportation nightmare

On 12th May 2012 we first found out about a terrible situation, reading in the Christchurch Press newspaper. A family – Cherie and children aged 16 and 19 – were in desperate fear of being deported and having to move in to a garage as they were losing their home.

We immediately contacted to offer support as we have with many others in the past and found they were long-standing members of move2nz. What was brilliant this time was that we were also able to review the immigration decision being made because Mike is now a licensed immigration adviser.

The situation

Cherie had been working in New Zealand for four years in an important and skilled job. She tried to renew her work visa in March and the immigration department (INZ) first confirmed they had everything they needed, but just two days before her visa was due to expire INZ insisted she produce a police clearance certificate from South Africa.

These certificates take months to obtain and Cherie’s licensed immigration adviser had failed to remind her to get one. INZ refused to accept a declaration that Cherie had applied for the certificate which was strange as they had let her do so before, Cherie had not been back to SA since 2007 and her previous certificates had been completely clean.

This decision not to allow a declaration created a situation where two days later Cherie found herself with no visa, unlawful in New Zealand and subject to deportation. Of course this also meant that Cherie immediately lost her job as she no longer had the legal right to work in NZ. Cherie’s 16 year old daughter also no longer had the right to go to school and was forced to stay home half-way through her year 12 studies.

The family was now without a source of income and, as temporary visa holders, were not entitled to financial assistance. When the money ran out they started selling furniture to buy food.

When Cherie needed them most I am ashamed to say that her immigration adviser of four years refused to help because Cherie could not afford to pay the fees. On her own Cherie appealed the decision and then put in another visa application as she still had a full-time offer of skilled work. Both actions were declined.

By mid May the family were in serious trouble being kicked out of their home and soon to be kicked out of New Zealand.

Saving this situation

Mike put his Licensed Immigration Adviser hat on and waded through a foot-high pile of papers to find out what had happened. I worked with the Ministry of Education to successfully get Cherie’s daughter back to school.

The Press newspaper ran a story about the Vermaak family and the Christchurch community responded with incredible generosity offering food, help with immigration costs and help with rent.

It very quickly became clear to Mike reading this file that a mistake was being made by INZ and he negotiated for time to enable Cherie, a skilled worker, to find another job. INZ offered 6 weeks and said Cherie would have to leave if she did not have a job by this time.

Bizarrely, after having made a decision which effectively lost Cherie her job, INZ reversed it and agreed she could now enter a declaration relating to her police certificate if she found another job. Mike argued successfully for an extra month to give the 17 employers Cherie had applied to time to evaluate her application, but if Cherie did not have a job offer by 30th July she would have to leave New Zealand.

A chance to stay

Our own new immigration business was opening an office on August 13th and we were in the process of advertising for an Office Manager. Cherie applied for the job and, despite a month of advertising, was the only applicant with the skills we needed so we suddenly found ourselves able to offer her employment. This complicated things a bit but we submitted a Work Visa application which met every requirement on 23rd July.

The weeks ticked by with no news until 29th August when Mike received a letter from INZ. Cherie’s application was again declined and she had to leave New Zealand immediately or be deported.

We were absolutely gutted, especially as no reason for declining was given. As we covered back in March INZ directs staff not to record the reasons for decisions on cases like this. Cherie was left with no right of appeal waiting for a deportation order to be issued which would send her and her children back to South Africa with nothing. Potentially living on the streets in South Africa was suddenly a terrifying but very real possibility.

A final roll of the dice

Mike immediately wrote a letter to the Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson asking if she would review this decision.

The minister can simply refuse to intervene and so Mike put together 8 pages of reasons why this situation was unfair to slow the deportation.

In the meantime Mike began pulling together hundreds of pages of documented proof to back this request up. It was our only chance and absolutely final hope. If the minister refused to look at the case it was all over.

On 8th September the Vermaak family were finally forced out of their home.

We couldn’t see them living on the streets and so offered space in our own home, turning move2nz’s office into a room that Cherie and her children could share. This was not ideal but the only option we had – Mike and I couldn’t have lived with ourselves if we didn’t do everything in our power to support this family.

Of course this wasn’t the first time we have been in this position – long term members will remember we opened our home to the Smith family of 4 back in June 2009, supporting them for 6 months while their appeal was heard, giving them the chance to gain residency and get back on their feet which they have successfully done.

The Ministers decision – Thursday 13th September

On Thursday the decision came. This was much quicker than we had expected and Mike was only half-way through getting the documented proof ready. After putting over 400 hours of pro-bono work into this we thought this might be the end.

What we were delighted to read was that Kate Wilkinson had overturned the INZ’s decision, granting each of the Vermaaks a 12 month visa to sort out their situation.

Mike, Cherie and Tammy - copyright Dean Kozniac, Fairfax Media

(Click for enlargement)

This is all they ever needed and we are so happy for this family. They will be staying with us for the time being, but we are now looking forward to watching them get back on their feet. As soon as Cherie has her visa she will be starting work as our Office Manager and helping us set up the New Zealand Immigration & Settlement Services office to be the best immigration consultancy in New Zealand.

From a personal view this decision also means that Mike’s 100% success rate on applications and appeals is reinstated and is a fantastic result for move2nz which will continue to help supporting this family.

I hope you will join with us in wishing this brave family the very best for the future.

A few words from Mike

New Zealand’s immigration system is built to be open, fair and help attract great people who have a lot to offer this country, but sometimes migrants who are acting in good faith fall between the cracks. In cases like this the Associate Minister of Immigration Kate Wilkinson is the only ‘safety net’ to ensure decisions being made are fair and in New Zealand’s best interests.

Ms Vermaak’s case is a perfect example where decisions made by other people combined to create a situation where, though no fault of her own, a valued worker in an important job was suddenly catapulted along with her children into a nightmare of losing her job, her home and everything she had worked for years to build.

In situations like this the Associate Minister acts as a vital safety net to ensure fair and just decisions are made, upholding the integrity of what is an excellent immigration system and protecting New Zealand’s international reputation.

On receiving our cry for help Kate Wilkinson moved swiftly to get to the bottom of what had happened, recognise the terrible mistake being made, save New Zealand many thousands of dollars and end a nightmare which was likely to end with the family being returned with nothing to live on the violent streets of South Africa.

I have already written to express my appreciation and thanks for the help on this case: a big win for New Zealand. I would also like to express our thanks to The Press who alerted us to this situation and have faithfully followed this story all of the way through and also move2nz members who supported our facebook campaign.

News stories

This story has been followed through the media, here are a number of the news stories written.

Professional, Ethical and Not-For-Profit

June 19, 2012

Press Release: Launching New Zealand Immigration & Settlement Services Ltd.

Move2NZ’s Mike Bell has set up a new business for skilled migrants and employers working on the Christchurch rebuild.

Mike and wife Tammy have already sealed an international reputation for achieving better outcomes for migrants, their employers and New Zealand. Now a licensed immigration advisor Mike is creating something entirely new to increase and protect the billions of dollars skilled migration add to the New Zealand economy every year.

New Zealand Immigration & Settlement Services Ltd ( is set to revolutionise the immigration industry as the first Not-For-Profit immigration business. Offering professional services which will empower migrants and support New Zealand employers this business will plough 100% net profits back into facilities supporting New Kiwis.

Work on the Christchurch rebuild will require an estimated 20,000 skilled workers over the next decade. Mike strongly believes in a preference to employ Kiwis workers, but aims to support employers who will need to secure overseas expertise in shortage areas such as engineering, I.T. and of course medicine.

“Hanging on to key staff attracted here is vital to support not only the rebuild but to meet the needs of existing companies and services.” Says Mike Bell. “At the moment employers are left to their own devices and are struggling to retain workers they have invested time and money into attracting.”

“Skilled migrants bring rare skills, experience, new ideas and add billions of dollars to our economy to grow business and employment in New Zealand. Left to sink or swim on their own, many skilled migrants struggle to settle and as a result nearly a quarter leave – that’s $2 billion walking out of our economy every year.”

Through 2006 – 2009 Mike and Tammy ran a hugely successful Migrant Centre offering free information and support to over 10,000 people at no cost to the taxpayer.

They now intend to re-open this service using profits from providing high quality immigration services to serve Christchurch through these difficult times. – revolutionising the immigration industry.


A letter to the Immigration Minister

July 29, 2011

Dr. Jonathan Coleman, Immigration MinisterIn move2nz’s July newsletter I pointed out some of the dramatic changes I had noticed in the selection of applications made by the department under the Skilled Migrant Category and promised to explain more.

Below is a copy of a letter I sent to the Minister of Immigration Dr. Jonathan Coleman on July 20th which fully explains my concerns. I’ll let you know what I get back.

Dear Dr. Coleman,

Re: Skilled Migrant Category

I have a number of questions relating to selections of applications made under the Skilled Migrant Category of New Zealand’s Residence programme and, rather than speculating on reasons behind perceived policies and changes, I would be very grateful if you could provide information on the following.

Most recent selections

I notice from the immigration department website statistics that the number of applications selected from the pool on 13 July 2011 (764) was significantly higher than the averages seen through 2009/10 and 2010/11 (604 and 561 respectively). In fact this was the largest selection made since 6 May 2009.

1. Can you advise why the number of applications selected has increased?

2. Can you confirm if this marks a move from policy applied since January 2010 to select approximately 550 applications each fortnight?

Within each selection made there is a majority percentage which claim points for a suitable job or job offer in New Zealand. I note that for the two most recent selections (made from the pool on 30 June 2011 and 13 July 2011) 91% of the applications included claim points for employment marking a significant increase in a percentage measure which has been largely unchanged for some time (certainly between 1 January 2009 and 15 June 2011 the average percentage of applications in each selection falling into this group was 71%).

3. Can you confirm if there is any specific reason why such a high number of applications selected over the past month include points for New Zealand employment?

4. Can you confirm if this percentage marks a change in policy or practice relating to the Skilled Migrant Category?

5.Can you confirm if this percentage is expected to be maintained or increase?

Within each selection made there is also a majority percentage of applicants making their application from within New Zealand (onshore) rather than outside New Zealand (offshore).

I note that the three most recent selections (made from the pool on 15 June 2011, 30 June 2011 and 13 July 2011) have included the highest percentages of applications made onshore since at least 1 January 2009 – increasing through 81%, 82% and 86% respectively.

Again this marks an increase in a percentage measure which has been largely unchanged for some time (between 1 January 2009 and 15 June 2011 the average percentage of applications in each selection falling into this group was also 71%).

6. Can you confirm why such a high percentage of applications made from within New Zealand were selected over the past 6 weeks?

7. Can you confirm if these selections mark a change in policy or practice relating to the Skilled Migrant Category?

8. Can you confirm if this percentage is expected to be maintained or increase in future SMC selections?

Applications selected under the SMC

As immigration department statistics confirm, from January 2010 the number of applications selected from the pool under the SMC each fortnight fell from an average of 705 in the year to December 2009 to an average of 556 in the year to December 2010. Numbers through the first half of 2011 have risen slightly to an average of 562. I also understand that the SMC quota has been reduced from 27,000 – 30,000 to 25,000 – 27,000.

9. Can you advise why the SMC quota was reduced from 27,000 – 30,000 down to 25,000 – 27,000, a drop of 10% of the maximum number?

10. Are any further changes to the SMC quota planned?

11. Are any changes to the SMC selection criteria planned?

12. How has the reduction in numbers being selected since January 2010 affected those with applications in the pool claiming 10 points for a qualification in an area of absolute skill shortage?

13. How has the reduction in numbers being selected since January 2010 affected those with applications in the pool which did not claim points for offers of skilled employment or current skilled employment in New Zealand, work experience in an area of absolute skill shortage or for a qualification in an area of absolute skill shortage?

14. As the overall Residency quota (including the family reunifications and humanitarian streams) has not decreased how is this reduction of the SMC expected to affect the other streams.

15. Is there any planned change to the overall Residency quota?

Percentage of applications selected and then declined

I notice from the Immigration department statistics presented through their website that the percentage of applications accepted through the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) that are subsequently declined has continued to rise year on year, reaching 16.3 percent in 2010/11.

2005/06 2006/07 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11
SMC Applications declined 6.7% 8.7% 9.8% 10.4% 14.4% 16.3%

16. Can you please confirm why the percentage of applications selected under the current points system being subsequently declined is increasing year on year, almost doubling in 4 years?

17. Arguably the increase in applications which are selected and subsequently declined suggests a failure in the selection process, are any changes to policy or practice are planned to address this problem?

18. Is the percentage of selected applications which are subsequently declined likely to continue to increase as it has done for the past five years?

Statistics from the immigration website confirm that applications representing 30,665 individuals were selected in 2010/11. As I have pointed out, through the 2010/11 year the percentage of selected applications that were then declined hit 16.3% leaving just 25,666 individuals obtaining Permanent Residency through the SMC in 2010/11. If the current pattern continues further increases in the percentage of applications being declined could easily cause the department to fail to meet the minimum SMC quota.

19. With numbers approved Residency through the SMC falling to within 2.6% of the minimum quota what actions will be taken to ensure numbers do fall below the minimum quota in 2011/12?

20. Are you concerned that the number of individuals gaining Residency through the SMC is only 2.6% higher than the minimum quota?

Reduction in applications approved under the SMC

Arguably as a direct result of the combination of the reduction in SMC applications being selected each fortnight from January 2010 and the percentage increase in the number of those applications subsequently declined the number of applications approved for Permanent Residency under the SMC through 2010/11 was significantly lower than in the previous year.

According to statistics obtained from the immigration website 5,440 less SMC applicants obtained Residency through the SMC in 2010/11 compared to 2009/10, a drop of 20.4%.

21. Why has the number of skilled migrants obtaining Permanent Residence in New Zealand been reduced in this way?

22. How was this reduction expected to impact skill shortages in New Zealand and New Zealand employer’s ability to source skilled permanent foreign staff when no New Zealanders are available?

23. What impact has this reduction had on skill shortages in New Zealand and New Zealand employer’s ability to source skilled permanent foreign staff when no New Zealanders are available?

24. Do you consider that long term skill shortages in New Zealand are being effectively met through the SMC?

25. Do you have any intention of adjusting the number of temporary work visas to balance the reduction made in the SMC?

26. Is this cut to skilled migration through the SMC expected to continue or increase?

Thank you for your assistance with these questions, I appreciate your assistance in clarifying these matters.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Bell