Migrant advice prompts anger
Last updated 05:00 09/09/2009

A government agency created to protect migrants from fraudulent immigration advisers has been flooded with complaints.

Since opening in May last year, the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) has received or generated 300 complaints about people giving immigration advice, including misleading or dishonest behaviour, excessive fees and holding of passports.

Registrar Barry Smedts said most of the complaints were against unlicensed advisers, but five licensed advisers were also under investigation.

Under new laws, all New Zealand-based immigration advisers had to be licensed by May 4 this year, while overseas advisers have until May next year. Smedts said some advisers were still operating "under the radar".

Lane Neave Lawyers immigration partner Mark Williams said the number of complaints was "just the tip of the iceberg".

"Once IAA action becomes well known, you're going to see considerable numbers of complaints about these people," he said.

Not only were unlicensed advisers still operating, but some of those with licences should not have them and needed to be "weeded out", he said.

"There's no additional protection for migrants at all at this stage."

Standards for getting a licence were set low to prevent a black-market industry.

Williams expected standards to rise over time in line with Australia, where qualifications were being established.

He said it was a concern that only 16 per cent of licensed advisers in New Zealand had a degree-level qualification.

"If someone's got a licence at the moment, that doesn't guarantee a professional service or value for money."

Williams said migrants from countries such as China, South Korea and Japan were often reluctant to complain about shonky advisers as they believed it might affect their immigration application.

He was also concerned about the low number of overseas advisers who had become licensed.

At the end of August, there were 237 advisers licensed with the IAA, of whom just 25 were outside New Zealand.

Christchurch Zhonghua Chinese Society president Longyin Li said overseas-born advisers were unfairly disadvantaged by the new rules.

To become licensed, he had to sit a high-level academic English test.

He said some companies were skirting the rules by hiring an English-speaking person to get the licence but doing immigration work behind the scenes.

"This will make the situation even worse," he said.

From here.