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Christchurch immigration adviser guilty of exploiting client

Media release

19 July 2013

A Christchurch immigration adviser has been found guilty of charging “grossly excessive fees designed to exploit her client”.

Christine Yap, of the Migration Bureau operated by Oceania Development Group, claimed her fees were in line with industry standards while charging an hourly rate of $545 and using various devices to further inflate that to $587 an hour.

A South African client became concerned at the large amounts being charged after speaking to other people. She complained to the Immigration Advisers Authority.

Ms Yap suggested that the fees could be charged at that rate because the client came from South Africa.

The Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal said: “I do not accept Ms Yap’s claim that it was either proper to base fees on where her client came from, or that fees in South Africa are in the range of NZ$500-$600 per hour, or inflated in the way the client’s fees were… it is not in line with industry standards to charge clients more based on where they are located.”

Ms Yap was censured and ordered to pay a penalty of $3,500 and compensation and refunds of $4,640. Ms Yap’s immigration adviser licence was cancelled and she is prevented from reapplying for a licence for two years.

The chair added: “Ms Yap was guilty of a serious professional offence which was established on clear evidence. The offence involved the dishonest treatment of a client by abusing the client’s trust. Ms Yap has been uncomprehending of the gravity of such an offence.

When responding to the complaint, she sought to attribute some blame to her client for failing to do her own research into fees charged by licensed immigration advisers. It appears that Ms Yap has failed to understand that clients are entitled to trust licensed professionals and that licensed professionals will be held accountable when they abuse that trust.” [54.1SD]

A second complaint was also upheld on the basis Ms Yap engaged in misleading behaviour. She was ordered to pay a penalty of $1,500 and refund fees.

There are currently 597 advisers worldwide who are licensed by the Immigration Advisers Authority. Since 2008 only ten advisers have had their licences cancelled by the Tribunal.

Registrar of Immigration Advisers Barry Smedts said: “We, at the Authority, are pleased to see dishonest people weeded out of the immigration space.

Licensed immigration advisers are trusted professionals. The vast majority of advisers abide by a code of conduct and carry out great work for their clients.

ENDS

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.

Under the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 only those people who are licensed or exempt are able to give immigration advice about New Zealand. A person who provides immigration advice without being licensed or exempt commits an offence.