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Reference group minutes

 

Date: 17 April 2012
Place: Immigration Advisers Authority, 52 Symonds St, Auckland
Attendees: IAA - Natasha Narayan (Chair - Operational Policy Manager), Barry Smedts (Registrar of Immigration Advisers), Maheesha Kottegoda (Senior Communications Adviser), Kane Groat (Acting Business Manager), Alex Voutratzis (Senior Adviser, Operational Policy), Zoe Gilmore (Secretariat)
INZ – Alex Whittaker (Acting Regional Manager Central)

Licensed immigration advisers – Toni Alexander, Jennifer De Wald-Harrison, Matt Fistonich, Howard Levarko, June Ranson, Holger Weischede, Julie Wilson
Apologies: INZ – Wayne Levick (Regional Manager Central, INZ), Robson Liang (NZAMI), Erica Nothnagel (NZAMI)

Agenda

  1. Setting the scene for the 2012 Licensed Immigration Advisers Reference Group – How do we want to operate?
  2. Authority Update
  3. INZ presentation on exempt adviser groups
  4. Graduate Certificate in New Zealand Immigration Advice – Qualification Update
  5. Discussion of Draft Document – Part C: Professional Responsibilities Guidelines and Review Template
  6. Open Discussion

1.   Setting the Scene for the 2012 Licensed Immigration Advisers Reference Group – How do we want to operate?

1.1   Natasha Narayan welcomed everyone present to the first 2012 reference group meeting, and noted that these meetings provide a valuable opportunity for the Authority to access the industry. Immigration adviser licensing is a young regime and the Authority is keen to receive feedback from the industry on planned initiatives.

1.2   Natasha reiterated that there will be three meetings in Auckland per year, and that the Authority will ask for written comment from the reference group throughout the year on issues and policy we are developing.

1.3   Although not intended, considerable discussion occurred on other subjects, the questions and responses to which are summarised below:

Question/Comment IAA Response
Has the qualification been approved by NZQA? Yes, it is now subject to Registrar sign off for licensing assessment purposes
Will a person enrolling in the qualification qualify for a New Zealand student visa? Natasha to check this with INZ
Overseas seminars where people expressed that they did not care about breaking the law and advising on visas other than just those that fit within the offshore student exemption, because they have no intention of coming to New Zealand themselves, and did not fear being caught. As a licensed immigration adviser, it is your professional responsibility to inform the Authority if you become aware of anyone who may be committing offences against the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007, by providing immigration advice outside the scope of their exemption.

2.   Authority Update

2.1   Barry Smedts welcomed everyone on to the 2012 reference group, and reinforced the importance of getting an industry perspective. He also expressed however, that he was disappointed with the low number of people applying to be on the reference group this year and encouraged advisers to promote the reference group as a way of shaping how the Authority works.

2.2   Barry also set some parameters for the group, by stressing that although it is often suggested that the Authority should be doing more around advocacy of licensed immigration advises, that this is not our role. He reinforced that the Authority is a regulator and our role is primarily one of consumer protection. NZAMI are an advocacy group – unfortunately their representative could not join us for this first meeting.

2.3   The Authority has just finalised its 2012/2013 Business Plan, outlining key elements of focus for next year. We support the Department of Labour’s public value statement “Best people brought to New Zealand” by contributing to the intermediate outcome “People can enter New Zealand with ease”.

2.4   Our key focus areas for 2012/2013 are:

2.5   Our key challenges for 2012/2013 are:

2.6   Barry explained our current organisational structure, and the fact that we have the same baseline funding as last year but with other costs rising – e.g. a lease increase is possible.

2.7   Barry also outlined each team’s key initiatives for 2012/2013, and also noted that the results from one of our annual surveys, Value of Licensing 2012 were being collated and would be shared in the next newsletter.

2.8   Summary of Questions & Responses:

Question/Comment IAA Response
Has the Authority considered renewals being less frequent than yearly? No, the yearly renewal is stipulated in the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 (the Act). A legislative review of the Act is not on the table. The intent of the legislation is not to ‘rubber stamp’ renewals. Therefore everyone should expect a standard renewal – a fast-track renewal is a privilege, not a right.

3.   INZ presentation on exempt adviser groups

3.1   Alex Whittaker (Acting Regional Manager Central, INZ) gave a presentation on the methodology and results of the INZ Quality Check Exempt Advisers Group which resulted from an agreement between INZ and the Authority, that INZ would make quality checks to ensure that the ‘exempt’ category was being used correctly.

3.2   The key points to note were:

3.3   INZ suggested moving from a biannual to annual report, but Barry advised that because this report has only been delivered twice, it seems too early to do this.

3.4   Barry considered that overall the report showed good results, with only a couple of problems in terms of data entry, and reiterated that INZ refusing to accept applications from those people who are not really exempt is what will make the system work.

3.5   Summary of Questions & Responses:

Question/Comment INZ OR IAA Response
What action is taken when a lawyer is struck off but is still working in the immigration field? The application would be Returned Failed Lodgement (RFL) - INZ
If a student and their family all lodged applications together and the exempt box was only ticked on the student application can they be examined to see if advice was provided on all the applications? Where possible family applications are given to the same case officer, although practices may differ between branches - INZ
Concerns raised over:
  • unlicensed advisers continuing to operate;
  • it is easy to complete online visa applications without ticking a box to advise that advice was given;
  • licensed immigration advisers working with overseas education agents to effectively ‘rubber stamp’ applications; and
  • theadvice being given on immigration blogs.
Barry asked if there is a feeling that there is a real problem with people providing advice but not entering anything on the application forms. It was agreed that yes, there are problems overseas with people providing advice on more than just student visas.
Any system needs to rely on a degree of trust. The Authority is giving presentations to consumer groups to advise of the dangers of using unlicensed advisers, but also encourages licensed advisers to provide information and evidence of unlicensed activity to the Authority for investigation.Some immigration blogs are monitored to advise people to contact a licensed immigration adviser. Details of any blogs of concern can be forwarded to the Authority.

Action:
The Authority will liaise with INZ to get a list of immigration advisers who are submitting an exceptionally large numbers of student visas to check for “rubber stamping”.

3.6   Natasha reminded everyone that although discussion on issues of concern were important, given the limits of time and the fact that meetings only occur three times a year, the reference group needs to focus on being a forum for big picture issues.

4.   Graduate Certificate in New Zealand Immigration Advice – Qualification Update

4.1   The qualification was NZQA approved on 30 November 2011, and currently the IAA needs to approve the course content for licensing assessment before first delivery commencing on 16 July 2012.

4.2   The contract for the qualification is with the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic (BOPP) who has subcontracts with the University of Victoria in Melbourne and the University of Waikato.

4.3   The qualification will cover a broad range of topics within 20 weeks. Modules 3-9 relate primarily to INZ and the Authority has worked closely with them to review these modules. The licensed immigration advisers on the Programme Steering Committee are also providing a valuable industry perspective. The focus of the review of the programme content of the qualification is to ensure that the topics covered are relevant and that it meets Level 7, Graduate Certificate requirements.

4.4   The qualification modules will be available to licensed immigration advisers to complete as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) but will not be compulsory.

4.5   Other tasks associated with the development of the qualification are:

4.6   Summary of Questions & Responses:

Question/Comment IAA Response
How many applications onto the qualification have been received from offshore? Only three offshore applications have been received. Each course will be capped at 60 students so the first intake is already full.
Will graduates of the qualification be identified on the register of licensed advisers? No, but it follows that if someone is licensed after 1 January 2013 they will have completed the qualification.
What happens once someone has completed the qualification? If a graduate has completed and passed the whole course they can apply for a full licence and practice on their own. There is not any direct contact with clients during the course but students complete many case studies.

The Authority will continue to assess an applicant’s fitness when they apply for a licence. However, the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic (BOPP) will be assessing English Language competency as a requirement to enrol in the qualification.
Concern with where graduates of the qualification go to for help once licensed.

It was also noted that while NZAMI provides an important platform for receiving support as a licensed adviser, this would be improved if more opportunities were provided outside of Auckland.
Natasha noted that there is a point where your professional life must begin, and that the qualification will advise graduates to link up with other professionals and explore what mentoring opportunities can be found in professional bodies such as NZAMI. In essence, the principles are being taught in the qualification, but practices will be tested in the renewal applications. Barry also noted that the current supervision policy has been open to abuse, in that some supervision agreements have been sensible, but others have verged on daylight robbery. This has not been something in which the Authority has been able to intervene. Barry also noted that applicants have not been able to find supervisors, due to a lack of willing supervisors, and the qualification removes this as a barrier to entry.

5.   Discussion of Draft Document – Part C: Professional Responsibilities Guidelines and Review Template

5.1   Natasha advised that the background to this work was brought about by the need to provide teaching material for Modules 2 and 10 of the qualification as part of the programme content development. In doing this, the Authority has taken the opportunity to review the detail of the policies that have already been developed and are available online, as well as the material from the Code of Conduct workshops that have been run in the past but require review. Our Google Analytics analysis of the areas of the website that are accessed, has also demonstrated that people are not accessing policies online to a great extent, and this raised the question of why this is the case – e.g. is it inaccessibly written, does it not answer people’s questions, etc. In reviewing this position, the Authority is also very aware that one of our statutory functions is to facilitate the education and professional development of advisers, and we therefore want the policy documents we develop to meaningfully assist advisers, and give them useful tools to comply with licensing requirements. Consulting with the industry in the development of such documents is a logical next step to achieve this better.

5.2   The Professional Responsibilities Guidelines which were provided for review relate mostly to Module 2, and Professional Practice Guidelines are also being developed and relate mostly to Module 10. In developing both documents, extensive reference has been made to publications from our Australian counterparts, the Office of the Migration Agents Registration Authority (OMARA), for which a licence agreement is being developed; and the decisions of the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal (IACDT), and in particular the Chair who has also offered to review material being developed for the qualification.

5.3   Summary of Questions & Responses:

Question/Comment IAA Response
Concern about how to deal with different cultural interpretations of “ethics” Natasha noted that the point of developing these guidelines was in fact to point out that it does not matter what your own values are; once you are licensed you must abide by the Code of Conduct.
Concern among licensed advisers that INZ’s own decisions are not always ethical. This is not something that we can influence. The qualification is a Level 7 Graduate Certificate because licensed immigration advisers have to comply with professional responsibilities.
Concern that some people practising as licensed advisers don’t even know about the relevant Acts and Regulations The qualification will teach students where to find the answers they need. It will introduce them to what an Act and Regulations are and where they can find the ones that are relevant in an immigration context.
Reference made to a presentation on Business Ethics given at an NZAMI seminar that may be useful to incorporate

Action: The forwarding of this presentation to Natasha would be appreciated and it would be reviewed, and if any additional material was incorporated, the author would be contacted to confirm agreement to this.

5.4   The reference group members divided into pairs to discuss and jot down ethical scenarios for Natasha to incorporate into the qualification.

Action: Due to time constraints, reference group members were also invited to email any written feedback directly to Natasha as well.

6   Close

6.1   Barry thanked everyone for their attendance and contributions. He also advised that we will be contacting the reference group throughout the year for feedback on a number of issues.