Migrants And Industry Benefit From Mandatory Immigration Adviser Licensing
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Friday, 1 May, 2009 – 09:47
1 May 2009 – The introduction of mandatory licensing for New Zealand-based immigration advisers will protect migrants from unscrupulous operators and provide valuable brand support for licensed advisers.
“There's nothing revolutionary about mandatory immigration adviser licensing. The industry has been successfully regulated overseas for years. What we are doing is bringing New Zealand practice in line with competitor nations such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia and that's got to be good for migrants and the New Zealand industry,” says, Barry Smedts, Registrar, Immigration Advisers Authority.
Mandatory licensing comes into force from 4 May 2009 and Mr Smedts says 166 immigration advisers are currently licensed to operate. “I like to think of licensing as a sort of brand protection that supports good operators and punishes bad ones. I think we're seeing that happen. Some advisers have opted not to continue in the industry but those who have are fully committed to the concept. There's real energy there the industry is now smaller, more professional and has a higher standard of overall expertise,” says Mr Smedts. Licensing is managed by the Immigration Advisers Authority, a statutory body that is hosted within the Department of Labour, but runs independently from the Department's day-to-day immigration functions. The Authority establishes and monitors industry standards and is also charged with setting requirements for continued professional development. As an independent body it can prosecute unlicensed immigration advisers. Penalties include up to seven years imprisonment and/or fines up to $100,000 for offenders, as well as the possibility of court ordered reparation payments. It can also act on complaints made against licensed advisers. “In the past some migrants were taken for a ride by shonky operators. Now migrants have somewhere to go if they suspect they've been poorly served. It's really just basic consumer protection. We're an independent body with the power to investigate and prosecute if needed,” says Mr Smedts.
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.
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.
Immigration advisers who work offshore but give advice about New Zealand immigration matters will need to be licensed by 4 May 2010.
The Immigration Advisers Authority does not handle immigration applications or inquiries. These are managed by Immigration New Zealand.