The Real Cost of Unlicensed Immigration Advice

I have just lately seen a disturbing pattern.  I have had enquiries from visa applicants, questions from colleagues in the industry, even a comment on one of our blog posts (scroll to the bottom).  It’s a nasty game being played by Immigration New Zealand, and I think they’re breaking their own rules.

The Situation

Usually it involves someone applying for a visa from overseas.  They hire a person who claims to be a New Zealand immigration agent to help them prepare their application, and who (I guess) charges a decent fee to do this.  However, this shark knows that they are not legally allowed to give New Zealand immigration advice.  They want to keep control of the application, but they don’t want Immigration to know that they are involved.  So they don’t put their name or address anywhere on the application form; all they do is to insert their email address so that INZ will contact them with updates.

When Immigration receives the application they recognise that this email address belongs to (say) someone they know is operating under the radar like this.  The problem is that the applicant (not the dodgy agent) is technically responsible for everything that goes into their application.  So Immigration declines their application because they have concealed information, or given misleading information, by not declaring who their agent is.

Why is this Wrong?

“Well,” you could say, “anyone who uses a fake agent is asking for everything that they get.”  However:

  1. many people applying for visas have no idea that only certain people can be New Zealand migration agents; or
  2. they believe what the shark tells them because he or she puts on a good show, or
  3. they may not even be aware that the agent put their own email address on the form.

That’s one set of reasons why this all seems so unfair.  The other reason is even more serious.

Immigration New Zealand is well aware that there are some bogus “immigration advisers” out there who have no license to give advice.  They are rightly concerned to stop these operators from ripping people off.

However, INZ has its own rules that it is meant to follow when it becomes aware that illegal advice is being given.  These are contained in an internal memo which was revised in May this year.  Visa staff are supposed to:

  • Send a message to the shark that they may be breaking the law, and tell them that INZ will only deal directly with the applicant from now on;
  • Contact the applicant and explain why they are doing so;
  • Consider whether to record an Alert that unlicensed immigration advice is involved, and possibly refer the case to the Immigration Advisers Authority to investigate the shark.

There is nothing in here about declining the application because of this.  More importantly, the wording of this Internal Administrative Circular makes it clear that the focus is upon getting the bogus agent, and not upon penalising the applicant.  Furthermore, INZ is a part of the same Ministry as the Immigration Advisers Authority.  The objective of the law which governs the IAA (and therefore the Government’s obligations in the immigration space) includes:

to promote and protect the interests of consumers receiving immigration advice, and to enhance the reputation of New Zealand as a migration destination . . .

I don’t know about anyone else, but I hardly think that punishing the victims of unscrupulous “agents” protects their interests; and I’m pretty certain that it’s bad for NZ’s reputation.

It’s the same sort of bureaucratic callousness and stupidity which justifies imprisoning refugees who come to New Zealand as a “mass arrival”, because this will deter the people smugglers who put them on the boat.  See my rant about this from 2014.  In both cases, the people behind these schemes already have their money by the time the hapless migrant or refugee runs into trouble – they couldn’t care less what happens to their victims.

The reality is that the Government is incapable of policing unlicensed activity outside New Zealand.  They don’t have the resources, and it is doubtful whether they even have the jurisdiction to prosecute someone in the Punjab or Bangkok.  Perhaps the powers-that-be think that if enough people’s lives are upset by declining their visas in this way, then this will somehow get out through the grapevine and future applicants will be more careful.  That still doesn’t justify acting contrary to the intent of both the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act and INZ’s own staff guidelines.

I’d be interested to look at similar stories from our readers.  I just want one good, juicy test case to fire a shot across Immigration’s bows that they, too, must act in good faith.

Advertisements

About Simon Laurent, Lawyer

Principal of LaurentLaw Barristers & Solicitors. NZ immigration law specialist.
This entry was posted in Immigration Visas and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s