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Immigration adviser stripped of licence for withholding passport

Media release

9 May 2013

An Auckland immigration adviser has been stripped of his licence after withholding a migrant's passport in lieu of fees.

Clients of Richard Uday Prakash, of Vital Consulting 2007 Limited, should be aware that his immigration adviser licence is cancelled with effect from Friday 25 January 2013.

The Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal found Mr Prakash was not entitled to the fees he claimed he was owed and should not have withheld the migrant’s passport under these or any circumstances.

Mr Prakash appealed the Tribunal’s decision at Auckland District Court. The District Court confirmed the Tribunal sanctions on 7 May 2013.

The Tribunal heard that in September 2010 Mr Prakash was asked to apply for a migrant’s work visa and tried several times without success.

The migrant, with a visa set to expire, booked a flight to Fiji to avoid being in the country illegally.

Close to the time the migrant was required to leave New Zealand, Mr Prakash withheld his passport to force him to pay a fee that Mr Prakash claimed was owing.

The migrant tried repeatedly to regain his passport. He remained in Mr Prakash’s Dominion Road office for two hours, contacted the police and made a complaint to the Immigration Advisers Authority.

The Tribunal chair said: "It is intolerable for a licensed immigration adviser to be a party to making it impossible for a person to leave New Zealand and meet their obligations under New Zealand law.

"Such conduct is aggravated when the motive is to pressure a person to make payments to them."

Licensed immigration advisers must return migrants’ personal documents when they ask. The Licensed Immigration Advisers Code of Conduct also requires advisers to sign a written agreement with their clients before carrying out work or accepting payment. In the agreement the adviser must explain what work they will carry out and specify all the accompanying fees and costs.

Mr Prakash failed to provide a second written agreement before carrying out additional work.

The Tribunal chair said failing to have a written agreement was significant but withholding a passport was far more serious.

The chair said: "Mr Prakash was guilty of a serious professional offence on clear evidence. It has elements of both dishonesty and undermining New Zealand's immigration system.

He was fully aware of his professional obligations when he offended. In the course of the complaint being addressed by the Tribunal, he has showed lack of respect for the regulatory processes which govern his profession.
He blames his former clients for his own misconduct, and has directed unpleasant and personal abuse toward them, without justification, during the course of addressing the complaint.”

The Tribunal ordered the licence of Mr Prakash was to be cancelled with effect from 25 January 2013. Without a valid licence Mr Prakash will no longer be able to provide immigration advice. The Tribunal also prevented Mr Prakash from reapplying for a licence for two years and ordered him to pay a $2,500 penalty.

Under the code of conduct advisers must take reasonable steps to ensure clients’ interests are represented if the adviser cannot for any reason continue as a representative.

Registrar of Immigration Advisers, Barry Smedts, said: “No one has the right to withhold personal documents. We advise anyone in such a situation to contact us. We also recommend people take time to fully understand a written agreement before they sign it or hand over any money. An agreement acts like a contract and should give a breakdown of work to be carried out and related costs."

Find out more about getting immigration advice, finding an immigration adviser or making a complaint at www.iaa.govt.nz or call us free from New Zealand on: 0800 422 422.

Notes to editor

The Immigration Advisers Authority was set up to promote and protect the interests of people receiving New Zealand immigration advice.

We do this by:

Under the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 anyone giving immigration advice must have a licence unless they are exempt. Exempt people include lawyers with a current New Zealand practising certificate and Citizens Advice Bureaux staff among others.

The Authority is independent of Immigration New Zealand and cannot give immigration advice or influence a visa application.