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Protecting "Vulnerable" Advisers

Posted by Iain on Dec. 15, 2017, 2:58 p.m. in IMMagine

The Immigration Department and most of our clients appreciate how seriously we take our jobs, the importance we attach to getting things right and the professional pride we feel every time we can tell a client ‘visa approved, hope you enjoy your new life’. However, that is not an externally driven process; it has always been something that we demand of one another as Advisers and is the reason we have watertight internal systems to ensure two sets of ‘licensed’ eyes check every strategy we are retained to execute and visa application that leaves this office. 

As part of our licencing, we are required to operate robust systems and we had these in place long before this industry was regulated and it became mandatory. I suspect this was part of the reason why, when the Immigration Advisers Authority was being established, I was asked to sit on the Government’s working group to advise on the appropriate structure for it and then was invited to sit on the reference group during its first year of operation. It is fair to say I believed that those of us who believe in the simple adage of ‘treat others as you’d like them to treat you’ (with a pinch of caveat emptor), these regulations controlling everything we do was not required. I have come to accept, however, that not all Advisers are as good, honest and professional as we are.

I never thought that the IAA might, in a roundabout way, protect us from our own clients but as this piece demonstrates, an unintended consequence of making sure our systems are extremely robust is that we are protected from the rare client that might have questionable ethics.

We have only ever had two complaints filed against us in the ten years we have had licenses (during that time we have processed in excess of 10,000 visa applications) and both have been thrown out as baseless.

While both in my view were always destined to fail, the second was an interesting test in my mind of whether the Registrar of Advisers would come down on our side and accept that no company does more to ensure that their processes and systems are possibly the most robust in the industry, but that we cannot be held responsible for clients that choose to be less than honest with the evidence we are asked to present on their behalf.

During the investigations into the first complaint, our internal processes were scrutinised, tested and stood up to very close examination, and the complainant thoroughly discredited given she was clearly the master of her own misfortune.

A few years ago we agreed to represent this particular client who, like most of you reading this, required a job offer to secure a resident visa under the skilled migrant category. Having represented other members of her family and having delivered to them everything we’d promised, this client came to us to replicate that outcome. 

My partner assessed her eligibility whilst she was in South Africa and considered matters beyond her potential points score as well as (as we always do) how employable she might be at the time within the NZ labour market. A strategy was presented to her and the factors for success all carefully explained in detail in writing before the process began.

She came to NZ, but struggled to get work (this was around the time of the GFC). After several months she secured employment as a ‘Store Manager’. Before suggesting she accept the job, we got a copy of the proposed job description, the draft employment contact, and we spoke to the employer to satisfy ourselves that the job itself ticked all the Government’s boxes for being ‘skilled’. We were satisfied - based on the written advice we received..

We filed a work visa based on this information and it was approved and issued. The client began working. To be approved, INZ had to accept that it was a skilled position based on the evidence presented, which they clearly did having taken the evidence at face value. So far, so good, and no surprises. 

A skilled migrant residence application followed. INZ carried out routine verification on the job by way of a telephone call to the client. She panicked (at the time we just presumed it was because she was very highly strung) and terminated the call to INZ and then called my colleague handling her case. She wanted to know what she should tell INZ when they called back. Although he was confused by the question his advice was simple and transparent. Tell the truth. According to the employment agreement and job description your job is skilled, so answer whatever questions they put to you.

When INZ called back, the description that she gave of her duties differed materially to the written job description she had presented us. We read the interview transcript later provided by INZ and the evidence was irrefutable. While she was busy shooting herself in the one foot, her employer had been busy blowing off the other one. He had received some written questions from INZ, which had corroborated her version of what she told INZ on the phone that she actually did all day – not what her employment contract and job descriptions said she was actually being employed to do.

While we did what we could to get her out of the mess she had just created through being less than honest with us about the true nature of her job, the application was understandably declined.

She demanded her money back from us and threatened a complaint against my colleague if we didn’t. She was basically accusing us of negligence (saying that we didn’t prepare her for the telephone interview with INZ) and incompetence (saying that we should have been able to make INZ realise her responses on the phone were contestable – they weren’t). 

I knew that we had been rigorous in our assessment of the job she told us she’d been offered, INZ had agreed that based on that contract and job description the job was skilled and gave her a work visa, so the only reason her residence case was declined was because the truth about her position was apparently different to the written information we had advised her on. 

I refused to refund a cent and invited her to go through with her threat to file a complaint with the industry regulator. She did.

My colleague didn’t thank me for it and he hardly slept for the next 18 months as we waited for the IAA Registrar -not known to be kind on Advisers - to rule on the complaint. In my view, not unsurprisingly, the complaint was dismissed following submissions from us presenting file copies (which we were more than happy to do) and explaining that in the end we have to rely on the honesty of clients and cannot base our advice on anything but the evidence they provide us. 

We asserted that the client had clearly misrepresented her actual daily tasks and responsibilities (as had her employer) in the employment agreement and that they had been caught out. We can hardly be held responsible for that. The IAA agreed and the case was dismissed with the observation our systems are very robust and the appropriate checks carried out and records of all that took place were kept.

What I didn’t know is that the client, who it seems must be a sucker for punishment, didn’t let it lie. Unbeknownst to us she then filed an appeal against the decision of the IAA not to uphold her complaint with the New Zealand Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.

That too was dismissed as lacking foundation.

The Tribunal ruled it is not for us to check the veracity of the offer unless we have reason to believe it might not be genuine or was misleading. We had no reason to presume the client or her employer were being anything less than 100% honest with us. Our internal checking and QA systems meant that three of us had sat together, reviewed the job offer and decided that it was skilled.

The reason I am writing about this is that there are lots of Advisers out there in the market and they are not all as ethical nor competent as those who work at IMMagine on both sides of the Tasman Sea. Equally not all clients are honest, either, and this was an interesting test of whether we could be held responsible for the actions of a rogue client.

In its decision (2016-NZIACDT -66 Edana Blieden vs Registrar of Immigration Advisers which you can read here) the Chair of the independent authority found that IMMagine ‘had robust review processes in place’ and found the complaint was without foundation and the appeal got the short shrift it deserved.

The Chair raised the obvious question; given the client went on to secure a resident visa when employed in the ‘same’ position with the same employer in the same location through a second and subsequent application, how was INZ able to approve it? 

That is a very good question and one we also asked Immigration New Zealand. How could they approve a second application when they found the first time they looked into the job offer it was not skilled? What changed? The employer didn’t, that much we know. The client advised the title was the same. 

I asked INZ to audit the decision to approve the later application and they said, without showing me any evidence, that both decisions were correct. That points to only one explanation – the second job offer was modified and INZ, for reasons only they can explain, accepted it. My suggestion INZ might want to investigate thoroughly to ensure the client and/or her employer hadn’t filed misleading information was not taken any further. I suspect INZ didn’t want to investigate because it could have gotten very embarrassing for them as well.

In the end we can only control our own systems and processes and ensure our quality assurance is the best in the business. 

That means ensuring nothing leaves this office that is not 100% accurate. I have always insisted that a second licensed Adviser check all case strategies before we agree to represent any clients, all temporary visa applications, skills assessments, qualifications assessments, all online EOIs, and all Resident Visa arguments and put their name to it on the file, as one seemingly small oversight can be the difference between success and failure. Two pairs of eyes is what leads to our success rate of almost 100% on visa applications.

Although there is no accounting for clients that mislead us or are doing jobs different to what their employment contract says, it is somewhat reassuring to see the Regulator helping to protect ‘vulnerable’ immigration Advisers, even though that isn’t their role.

Unfortunately in this social media driven world we are always at risk that a disgruntled client who shot her own feet off has the opportunity of running us down and we don’t have any way of countering it. 

Her complaint to the IAA is part of the public record as is her appeal against that decision so I feel quite justified in writing about it.

The takeaway is both the Immigration Advisers Authority registrar confirmed in dismissing the complaint that the quality of the systems at IMMagine is the highest possible quality, that our QA process is robust and, in the end, clients trying dodgy things cannot hide behind us - they can get caught as INZ carries out its verification processes (that is, after all, what they are designed to do). Should they try something less than honest, they cannot blame the Adviser who acted in good faith and had the records to prove it. This was reinforced by the independent Chair of the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.

Apart from being honest, it pays to stick with Advisers with robust assessment and detailed checking systems, track record of success and water tight QA processes, as we do.

Until next week...

Iain MacLeod, Southern Man


The Facebook Trap

Posted by Iain on April 10, 2015, 8:14 p.m. in Border Patrol

For some time New Zealanders have been debating Government surveillance, both of locals and our Pacific neighbours.

Our Government constantly reassures us with that old line that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear. And it’s okay because everyone is spying on everyone else.

I am all for national security and co-operation among countries if it leads to a safer world but what happens when you realise that the Immigration Department is also now trawling through your personal postings on Facebook and chat groups?

And what if you have done nothing wrong and they are still spying on you?

I recently wrote a blog about a young South African client who, following our advice, itself based on Immigration New Zealand advice (obtained through publicly available memos), was detained at Auckland airport on arrival last November. He was ‘interviewed’ about the purpose of his visit. He told the truth - he was here for two purposes - vacation and to see New Zealand because he was interested in the possibility of a move here. That included testing his skills against the local labour market - he never hid this fact. He was allowed entry but was given a type of visa that did not allow him to change his status if he decided to stay and found employment and so, having secured a job within 5 weeks and deciding to stay, he had to return to South Africa for us to obtain a work visa for him. It was stressful, added additional expense and in the ultimate irony was a few weeks ago granted a resident visa based on that job (that he could never have got if he was not in the country).

During his interview he was surprised to learn that the officer questioning him quoted comments he had made on Facebook, chat groups and forums and that he had sold one of his cars in South Africa (a sure sign you plan on emigrating it seems!).

While I had no reason to disbelieve the client I found it hard to believe that Immigration Officers were now trawling through online forums, chat groups and Facebook to check on what comments had apparently been made by people at our borders in the recent past.

Until it happened again a couple of weeks ago. The same thing. This time the officer was at Christchurch Airport and he too quoted Facebook comments posted by our client.

This raises some deeply troubling questions.

Should anyone remotely considering a move to New Zealand now fear posting anything on Facebook, migrant forums and chat groups given it can clearly be used against them when these paranoid border guards decide to question them on arrival?

Are decisions on whether to let people into the country being based on historical public comments made about possible future intentions? Intentions can change.  As by law they are able to.

It is 100% lawful for a visit to be made to New Zealand for the purposes of ‘Look, See and Decide’ and is enshrined in not just one internal memo (the first being issued by Immigration New Zealand in 2011) but two more - the most recent in June 2014. 

These memos make clear that if the traveller tells the truth about their intentions, their ‘primary’ purpose is vacation and the ‘secondary’ purpose something else (including testing themselves against the labour market) and there is no reason to believe they will breach the conditions of a Visitor Visa (tourist) they should be granted entry on a visa that allows them the option of changing their status later.

Despite our clients often arriving carrying a letter we provided (and showing it to these officers) confirming they are our client, the truthful purpose of the visit and their intention to explore their employability (and in the most recent case even carrying a copy of the June 2014 memo which was shown to the officer) they are being granted these limited purpose visas.

Even more troubling is in the most recent case we obtained a copy of the airport interview transcript. 

We asked the client if it reflected accurately the conversation. He said it did not in many respects.

This is a client who had been to New Zealand on several occasions, had never overstayed his visa and had never breached the conditions of any of them. No mention is made in the official record of the client showing the officer his own internal department memo, despite the client being adamant he showed it to him.

Basically someone is lying and we see no reason to believe that is the client.

We have now escalated the matter to the head of the Immigration Department to try and get this client’s status changed to a ‘normal’ visitor visa.

We have also considered a formal complaint against this officer who appears to have selectively recorded and edited the client’s statements and completely ignored the memo shown to him explaining why the client should have been granted a normal visitor visa - he had not told any lies and the officer had no reasonable grounds to conclude that he would likely breach the conditions of the visa.

I suspect this is another case of an immigration officer on a power trip at 1am in the morning. it must have felt really nice separating a husband and wife, grilling them in separate rooms when they had been in the air and likely largely sleepless for 24 hours.

This is not the New Zealand the Immigration Department markets to potential skilled migrants around the world and I want to believe these are the exception and not the rule. I can say they are — most clients never have this issue but the ones that are singled out seem to really get the ‘Border Security’ TV show treatment.

No potential skilled migrant should be treated like this and we have once again warned the head of the department that this sort of action, suspicion and paranoia will undermine the same department’s mandate for filling 27,000 skilled migrant places each year.

New Zealand employers are the ones demanding migrants be here for interviews and to prove they are committed and serious.

Immigration New Zealand has issued not one but three memos to these state functionaries on how to treat such applicants at the border and they continue to disregard or misinterpret the simple instruction.That old culture of paranoia and suspicion trumps common sense and decency.

To now find out that INZ seems to be regularly trawling public postings on Facebook, chat groups and forums and even (apparently) are able to access information about migrants selling cars before they leave home starts to all seem more and more sinister.

So be aware those of you looking to come to New Zealand - spilling your guts on Facebook and posting any sort of comment which might suggest your primary purpose in coming here is to settle permanently might now be read by these officious bureaucrats who could choose to use it against you.

As Government gathers more and more ‘big data’ despite you having nothing to hide with these  public postings, you do all now have something to fear.

I’d be really interested to hear if anyone else has had a similar experience, especially having Facebook comments being raised during airport interrogations, er, interviews…

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


Cricket, Power Cuts and Root Canals

Posted by Iain on Feb. 14, 2015, 10:47 a.m. in Living

It’s been a big week and my apologies for the later edition of the Southern Man. 

It’s that time of year when the Accountant wants to see me, the Dentist decided on a bit of root canal, I had a mediation over a leaky house issue before it gets to the Courts and somewhere in among all that did a week’s worth of work. Collapsed on the couch last night and dozed instead of sending this out.

Hey, I am only human and Southern Man’s letter from new Zealand just had to wait.

A bit of a hotch potch this week of thoughts and events.

Paul is off to South Africa on Monday for two weeks of Seminars in Johannesburg (now looking to be virtually fully booked), Durban and Cape Town. Suggested he pack a good torch and some extra batteries. How far has this once proud nation fallen that there is now four hours a day of power blackouts (something the South African spin doctors call ‘load shedding’). Call it what you like if but you can’t boil the water it’s a power blackout……. My partner Myer has been there the past two weeks talking to packed houses about moving to Australia. He wryly observed - they seem to have got used to 20,000 murders a year, a rape every three minutes, rampant Government corruption, public service inefficiency but cut off their power for four hours a day and they all start running for the door. It’s curious what we get used to.

I’d suggest the last one out should turn off the lights, but the lights it seems are likely already off.

Locally, we have electricity in abundance but as happens in most years we now have drought conditions declared on the east coast of the South Island (cricket fans might not believe that as this morning’s first game of the Cricket World Cup in usually very dry Christchurch is threatened by rain  interruptions). Up here in Auckland (nearly 1000 km away from Christchurch) there has been no substantial rain for over 6 weeks - the back garden needs regular watering to keep it alive. 

Temperatures have been a very pleasant 25 - 28 degrees Celsius now for six weeks and we are told to expect this through to April. Wonderful, unless you need to grow things for a living.

 

The World Cup of cricket kicks off n about an hour and it is filling all local cricket fans with an excitement not really experienced before. For the first time in a very long time, if indeed ever to be brutally honest, New Zealand can consider itself among the favourites. Those of us who enjoy this sport have been in that ‘I can’t wait’ mode for at least the past week. My apologies to those who think thesis like watching paint dry but can 1 billion Indians all be wrong? I don’t think so…….

Wonderful to see Christchurch playing host to the (rather low key but a hell of a lot better than what Australia put on as co-host!) opening ceremony. This was a chance for New Zealand’s second city to show the world it is back. out of adversity comes some wonderful opportunities including the new ‘village green’ type of cricket field at the Hagley Oval. Compare that venue set in a huge park with grassy areas and ‘low rise’ seating stands to the concrete jungle that is the MCG, where England take on the typically cocky Australians later today. The MCG is magnificent but in typical low key New Zealand style Hagley Park oval somehow seems more intimate.

In a final thought before i grab another coffee and settle into the couch for the Black Caps versus Sri Lanka I get the feeling that momentum is building for the addition of a compulsory IT qualification for all school leavers. Shockingly for a country that exports over $7 billion in ICT products and services every year only 6% of school leavers have a recognised IT qualification. The fact that there are in Auckland alone today over 1500 unfilled high skilled IT roles reflects the fact that our universities and technical institutes only produce 50% of the graduates this booming industry needs to satisfy it’s demand. 

Around 20% of all my clients work in IT and they are the one group of clients that can generally expect to find work in a few short weeks of landing with a high degree of certainty. This industry is also showing the most rapid increase in salaries with graduates starting around $60,000 and with 5 years experience most are on $85,000 plus. Thereafter the sky really is the limit. There has been a sea change here in this industry and New Zealand, if it can find the workers required, will see ICT exports become one of our top three or four exports within the next few years. it is already in the top ten.

For any of you (or any of your family and friends) might be thinking of joining us we are still trying to help a local IT recruiter fill some 200 IT roles and while we don’t hold ourselves out to be recruiters, we may be able to help some wannabe Kiwi IT specialists into roles locally if they retain us to handle the entire visa and settlement process.

Our New Zealand bound clients will shortly (if they haven’t already) receive an invitation to start using our sexy new in house developed client management system called HuM (as in ‘Helping U Manage’). In development for the past 18 months HuM was designed to help us better manage our clients visa applications in an electronic environment given from later this year more visas will be filed with the Department electronically and we wanted to be ready.

It has also given us the opportunity to provide our clients a one stop shop on our server to upload documents we need to see and to manage the logistics of their move - a place to create folders specific to the move such as ‘Bringing the Dog’,  ‘Shipping my personal effects’, ‘Finding accommodation’ and ‘Finding jobs’. Rather than have folders for this stuff all over your desktop you can save it all in your secure personal file on their own protected cline file on our server. Noting earth shattering but we hope a tidy solution designed not just for migrant but any small(ish) business with multiple clients that need to be managed in an increasingly electronic and cloud based world.

We will roll this out to our clients using our Melbourne office a little later.

Last but by no means least in about a month’s time you are going to notice a change to the IMMagine branding - principally to shades of blue. This change is the final step in the re-brand of IMMage new Zealand and IMMagine Australia to better reflect the ‘one company, two country solution’ we offer to those seeking a better life.

We will be rolling out a new website which we believe better reflects who we are and what we do across these two countries.

Okay, the umpires are making their way out on to the field shortly so I need to get to the couch before my son ‘shotguns’ it.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


Better to be thought a fool...

Posted by Paul on Oct. 10, 2014, 8:42 p.m. in Immigration

There is no doubt that the internet has changed our lives – forever. Our ability to access information at the click of the button and our ability to connect and share that information with people anywhere in the world is truly awe inspiring. It has given people in the most remote and isolated places the ability to talk to those in the most densely populated parts of the planet.

The world has gotten a lot smaller.

However just as the internet has increased our access to knowledge it has also created plenty of problems, with quite a few of them falling upon the unsuspecting migrant.

I have, over the last few months, become the member of a number of migrant social networks, the kind of websites that offer their users a place to learn more about New Zealand, its people and lifestyle and read others experiences, navigating through the migration process. I have no doubt that the administrators of most of these sites establish them with best of intentions; and in many cases there is some useful information about life in New Zealand and the collective migrant experience to be gathered, however when it comes to the immigration part, what results is far from useful. In fact in most cases these sections of most forum sites end up being quite simply, dangerous.

To anyone I consult with who mentions the comments and threads they have read on these sites, I give one warning ‘tread carefully’ and this is usually followed by words such as ‘avoid like the plague’ (or similar). Fortunately most migrants manage to filter through the rubbish, but a fair few get caught out.

Having trawled through a few of these sites, the first thing I have noticed (and it is common) is the need for those who have gone through this process to become ‘overnight immigration advisers’.  Now without offending anyone, the fact that you may have gone through this process yourself does not, on its own, make you qualified to tell anyone else how to do it, in fact the law says you can't. Whilst most of these people do so in an attempt to be helpful and with altruistic aims, the reality is that they often unintentionally cause more harm than good.

Migrating is a uniquely individual experience and what one person or family will go through will differ to another. I say this to all the people who I consult with or who attend my seminar, because it is true. Every applicant brings a ‘certain something’ to the equation, which inevitably means that their application will go through a different process to others. So what works for some may be result in disaster for another.

Many of the people who offer advice on these forums often don’t understand that migration is not about round pegs in round holes. A few weeks ago, I read a forum thread where one member, who had successfully settled themselves in New Zealand ten years ago, was offering advice to another, who was on their way. The would be migrant had secured a job offer and had asked the question “Should I apply for a Work Visa before I come to New Zealand or do it when I get there?”. The response from the ‘seasoned expert’ was to book the next flight, head on over and if stopped at the airport just tell them there is a job offer on the table …”no worries”.

There are so many things wrong with this advice, it’s hard to know where to begin. Most importantly however, if this person had jumped on that plane and had been asked at the airport what their intentions were, then the answer “I have a job offer!”, most likely offered up with a big smile on their face, could have potentially been met with “Do not pass go, do not collect $200.00 and we have you booked on the next flight back…”. The end result would be a wasted trip, refused entry and a whole lot of time and money down the drain.

Immigration rules change, and what might have been acceptable ten years ago (although this still wouldn’t have been acceptable then), won’t fly now. That is the risk that you run by following the unqualified advice of people, who have ‘been there, bought the t-shirt’.

Another common theme is for people to search through forums and ask the same questions until the find the answer they are looking for. It’s comforting knowing that someone out there agrees with you and offers you a solution that makes it all sound easy. Problem is it is most likely wrong. Good advice may not be the advice you want to hear, it may not be the 'easy fix' but it will be right.

Top all of this off with the fact that providing immigration advice without being licensed (no matter where you are in the world) is a criminal offence and it makes less and less sense to put any faith in these amateur experts.

Forum sites aren’t entirely bad and I would be doing them a disservice by suggesting that there is nothing useful to gain from them; however be selective.  In the same way that you wouldn’t rely on triple heart bypass surgery instructions from an online forum for recovering heart surgery patients, you shouldn’t try and find a road map to the immigration process in the same way. They can be good places to find out people’s experiences about the move, what they found challenging, what they found positive but when it comes to anything technical leave that to the experts. We understand that the process is unique for everyone and so we provide unique advice.

On that front, we have the Southern Man, presenting seminars in Singapore (tomorrow) and Malaysia next weekend, with more seminars later in the year (what is left of it before Christmas is upon us).

If you want to know how the process really works, from people that really know, then why not put the laptop down, turn the internet off and find out what you need to know from a real life person…

Until next week

Paul Janssen, standing in for the Southern Man.


How Licensing Fails Migrants...

Posted by Iain on March 28, 2014, 2:14 p.m. in Government

Did Confucius or some other sage (at Saatchi and Saatchi?) once say that self-flattery is the lowest form of compliment?

I am not sure.

I learned this week just how good the team at Immagine really is when compared to the rest of the immigration advice industry. This week’s blog is not so much about my team as it is the abject failure of the New Zealand Government’s licensing scheme in protecting migrants from shoddy Advisers but it demonstrates I hope just how good we really are at what we do.

I long rallied against regulating this industry but have concluded that sensible regulation that is enforced can be beneficial. I didn’t need a license to build a name and a company off the back of delivering what migrants struggled to achieve without professional advice but I concede now having a license can reinforce that ‘brand’. 

This business has been built on three key principles:

1. Treating clients as we would have them treat us if the roles were reversed

2. Don’t’ make promises you cannot keep

3. Offer value for money

We have now helped by our estimation over 21,000 people negotiate the residence process. Our success rate on visas filed is over 99.8% and possibly higher (but my math isn’t quite that good). Suffice it to say that if we file a Visa for someone there is very little chance it will not be granted.

I always assumed that while we are very good at what we do we were one of many. I learned this week that is not the case and we are among a tiny minority of Advisers with success rates this high.

Globally there are around 600 individually licensed immigration advisers.

I am not about to break confidences or name my source (the source is impeccable) but I have learned that if your immigration advisers/lawyer has been practicing for 5 years there is only 20 (something) on this planet who have better than a 90% visa approval rate.

To say I was shocked at this is an understatement. If among the best two dozen advisers there are any that have decline rates even approaching 10% on visa applications then it has to be concluded that the Government has allowed too many people to obtain licenses too easily and not enough is being done to lift the standard of entry into the industry or ensuring the standards of those with licenses remains high.

As a result of intense industry pressure late last year the Government announced a review of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority at which a number of us had levelled serious criticisms about their failure to offer much in the way of protection to so called ‘vulnerable migrants’, in large part because they were dishing out licenses to people simply unqualified and who lacked the experience to be given the responsibility. A few weeks ago the Registrar fell on his sword and resigned. I could be generous and say he will be missed but that would be untrue given migrants are, in my view, still not getting the protection the Authority was legislated to provide.

The Authority’s programme of creating a (pathetic) Immigration Advice Diploma course at the end of which ‘graduates’ are given a full licence to practice was always foolhardy and they were warned of it. Setting loose on the markets people who have no practical experience with the real world of migration laws and processes, migrants and the Immigration Department was a recipe for disaster.

And so it has now proved.

The first mistake of the Authority was having no real understanding of what good, competent and ethical Advisers like us do all day. Their focus was on making us comply with odd business practices rather than the quality of the work we do. It surely was simple enough to monitor approval rates on visa applications which in my view is the measure of the value and competence of an Adviser.

The second was to believe that graduates of their course were somehow entitled to employment and are being given licenses to practice. Who believes that graduates of any course are entitled to anything? Auckland University School of Law doesn’t promise law graduates jobs. No one promised me a job when I left Auckland University.

For some reason the Authority believed they needed to create an industry – when one already had been in existence for a quarter century and generally working well (certainly no worse) than when it was created six years ago.

As a consequence the market has been flooded by about 70 Advisers a year most of whom have no practical or real world experience. People who are sanctioned by the State to wave a license around and offer advice to those thinking of making the biggest decision they will likely ever make in their lives.

We have strongly advocated (and will continue to do so through the formal review of the Authority) that given the serious damage (financial and emotional) of getting eligibility advice wrong no one should be given a full license to practice without either working under the supervision of an fully licensed, experienced, competent and ethical Adviser for 2-3 years (law graduates in New Zealand for example cannot work on their own account for I believe three years after qualifying) or if they wish to be self-employed until they have filed a certain minimum number of visa applications across all categories, whose applications and outcomes have been closely monitored by the Immigration Department and/or the Authority and who cannot demonstrate an approval rate of at least 97% (I’d exclude refugee claims from that given they are a whole different kettle of legal fish).

There is also the issue of beefing up complaints and compliance.

In every market we work in overseas we are constantly meeting migrants who have been ripped off or poorly advised on their options by people with full licenses but who should quite simply not hold them. Particularly in South Africa and Malaysia.

The Authority clearly has real problems trying to enforce NZ law on overseas based Advisers but it is hoped once they get their house in order under new leadership they will focus every more rigorously on cleaning out those with licenses in South Africa, Malaysia, India, Philippines, China and beyond who are giving inaccurate, misleading and often woeful advice to would be New Zealanders whose visa applications are failing to be approved.

While I hesitate to compare helping people relocate and settle with selling milk powder, New Zealand enjoys a reputation globally for openness, transparency and above all quality of product and service. The national Farmer Co-op, Fonterra, got into big trouble last year in its biggest market, China, through a botulism scare in some of its infant formula product. While it turned out to be a false alarm it did serious harm to one of New Zealand’s key industries, cost the country several hundred million dollars in lost income and more than that brought into question New Zealand’s reputation for only dealing in quality and reliable products and services. While the milk powder and infant formula markets have bounced back and continue to lead the economic expansion of the economy it was a good lesson for not settling for less than 100%.

My industry is no different to all those New Zealand exporters competing around the world. As Licensed Advisers we have the power to shape futures positively or negatively. The Immigration Advisers Licensing Authority was set up not just to protect migrants from dodgy or incompetent Advisers but to help protect the reputation of New Zealand as a migrant destination and every Adviser that lets the side down by filing inadequate or incorrect visa applications lets ‘team New Zealand ‘down. 

To learn this week that Immagine New Zealand probably employs 4 of perhaps two dozen people on this planet with a success rate with visa applications higher than 90% was truly a shock to me. 

Our aim is 100% and probably would be if all clients were honest about everything from the get go. I can probably only expect 99.8%. 

It isn’t bad even if it isn’t perfect. And it does put our team in a minority of perhaps 3% of all those with licenses. 

Things have got to change and I intend continuing to be part of the charge.

Off to South Africa Monday for three seminars across the Republic For further details. Click here for details.

Until next week

Iain MacLeod - Southern Man


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