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Reference group minutes, 4 October 2021

Date: 4 October 2021, 2pm – 4pm

Place: via Zoom

Attendees

Licensed Immigration Advisers: Jens Mueller (Barclays Lloyds Limited), Paul Janssen (IMMagine Australia and New Zealand), Nassim Lalehzari (Working International Visas Ltd), Borey Chum (NZAMI), Rattan Prakash (NZAIP).

IAA: Duncan Connor (Registrar), Polina Finney (Senior Technical Advisor), Gemma Maslin (Senior Technical Advisor), Simon van Weeghel (Senior Investigator)

Guests: Appley Boyd (Toi Ohomai), Rob Perry (INZ)  

Apologies: Mahalakshmi Saikumar (Australian NZ Migration Centre), Afiff Shah (New Zealand Visa Solutions Ltd)

Welcome

The Registrar welcomed everyone present and introduced the IAA Panel.

Topic 1: Proposed supervision guide

A draft of the proposed supervision guide was distributed to the Reference Group prior to the meeting.

A summary of the proposed supervision guide was gone through and the group was asked to provide comments and suggestions.

Summary of discussion

  • Having all of this information in one document with links to resources is useful.
  • On the question of amending Form 101A to include a declaration from the supervisor that they have familiarised themselves with available supervision resources, the Authority confirmed that the Licensing Team can verify webinar attendance with the Authority’s records, and the Licensing Team can request records if there are concerns.
  • The group discussed whether “regular meetings” can be defined.
    • The Authority does not want to be overly prescriptive, but it was noted that the Licensing Team rarely approve monthly meetings.
    • The Authority will, however, take into account the supervision arrangement as a whole, including professional development plans and ways in which the supervisor will monitor the provisional licence holder’s practice.
    • The Authority will look into defining what is meant by “regular”.
  • It was asked if the phrasing around a supervisor accepting responsibility for the quality of a provisional licence holder’s work could be reworded. An example scenario was given when a provisional licence holder acts contrary to their supervisor’s advice.
    • It was said that supervisors need to take on a certain level of responsibility for those under their supervision, however, it is unlikely that a supervisor would suffer consequences if they did everything they could and the provisional licence holder still went against advice.
    • The Authority will look at perhaps rewording the phrase.
  • On the issue of how and when supervision meetings should take place, the Authority will clarify that a combination of types of meetings (e.g. zoom and in-person) is acceptable.
  • The purpose of requiring the method of meetings in a supervision agreement is to have advisers consider from the outset how their meetings will take place.
  • It was asked if the Authority expects advisers to amend their supervision agreements if the method of meetings will be changed, e.g. during a change in alert levels.
    • The Licensing Team stated they would not expect an adviser to amend their supervision agreement if the method of meetings changes. The Authority will look to clarify this in the guide.

Further feedback has been received by the Authority via email and will be considered for purposes of amending the Supervision Guide.

Topic 2: Refund policies and internal complaints procedures

It was observed that non-complaint refund policies are commonly seen during investigations and inspections by the Authority. Wording such as "the fees are non-refundable" or that specific conditions apply to refunds are not consistent with the Code of Conduct obligation for refunds to be fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

The group was asked whether the obligations around refunds need to be explained more, or in a different way, by the Authority, or if the wording in the Code of Conduct should be changed.

Summary of discussion

  • A concern was raised that an adviser may work full time on an issue, and then may not be entitled to compensation for the work already completed; advisers need to retain funds for work they have already done.
  • It was suggested that it is good for an adviser to be clear about what is payable for what service, so if the agreement is terminated, an adviser can point to what has already been allocated/spent and refund the remainder.
  • Advisers need to make a judgement call around what is fair and reasonable.
  • The Authority could possibly look at giving examples of when refunds are appropriate.
    • It was suggested the Authority could not list all possible circumstances, especially in today’s environment where things change so quickly.
    • It was said if the Authority singles out certain areas where a refund should be given, that may be opening the door for problems if something is missed.
  • It was suggested the Authority expands on the guidance for refunds in the Code of Conduct toolkit.
  • It was said that a broad refund clause is better. If advisers are worried about refunds, they could look at rewording their payment policies instead

The need for an industry-standard internal complaints process was discussed. Some group members said they would not be opposed to an industry-standard internal complaints process being developed, but there would need to be industry consultation.

Topic 3: Managing clients during Covid

Covid-19 and the resulting lockdowns has had an effect on how advisers manage clients. The group talked about experiences advisers have had and suggested ways of dealing with specific issues.

Summary of discussion

  • It was recommended that advisers ensure their communication with clients is robust, and should be proactive and pre-emptive. It is good to clients updated through emails, newsletters, phone calls etc, and do this each month. This is to try and keep clients out of the dark. The communications could say “this is what has been announced, and this is how we think it will affect you”.
  • Before Covid-19 it may have been usual to just have one-on-one meetings in an office with a client. Now advisers often have the whole family on a call, or in the room, with people popping in and out. This is usually a good thing and there is often a lot of conversations going on in another language with someone acting as a translator. However, it can be quite overwhelming, and the environment is not as controlled as an adviser may be used to. The adviser should watch out for topics the client may not want to discuss in front of others, and follow up with them privately if necessary.
  • This environment is hard on everyone. There’s a lot of misinformation circulating.
  • Everyone needs to look after themselves and practice self-care – e.g. exercise and family time. Advisers should check on their team – are they OK – and check in on themselves – are you OK?
  • Things are hard for clients at the moment, and you might get fatigued from their stress.
  • Zoom and working from home cause fatigue.
  • The Authority should look to provide mental health guidance to advisers and encourage advisers to join a cell group, or NZAMI etc, so they aren’t isolated.
  • Working from home under level 3 or 4 means that an adviser cannot see clients face-to-face. Clients may still want to see an adviser face-to-face because they think they’ll get a better outcome representation.
  • After each Government announcement advisers get a flurry of emails from clients. It is tempting to want to immediately answer these all and engage everyone, but an adviser should remember to take a moment before responding. An adviser must balance responding quickly with responding well.

Topic 4: Client surveys

1. A survey of the experience of visa applicants who had engaged a licensed immigration adviser

The purpose of the survey was to monitor licensed advisers’ performance and provide information that would assist the Authority in its regulatory functions. The survey was conducted between January and June 2021 and was managed by GravitasOPG. Overall, the survey found that for most visa applicants the experience of engaging an immigration adviser had been a positive one. The full results will be shared on the IAA website in November 2021.

2. IAA Client Survey

The purpose of this survey was to provide information about how well the IAA team is delivering to their clients, the licensed advisers. The survey questions centred around the advisers’ awareness of their rights and obligations in relation to the IAA, their satisfaction with the application and licensing processes, as well as their experiences of dealing with the IAA team (amongst others). The survey was conducted between June and September 2021 and was managed by Nielsen IQ. The results were generally positive. The Authority is currently analysing the report, and we will keep the industry informed of any steps that may be taken in response to the survey’s findings.

Summary of discussion

  • Social media means a lot of immigration updates are being distributed and viewed by large number of people, and the people putting that content out are often not advisers.
  • The survey results mention good reasons to engage advisers. It was asked if the Authority can put these on IAA website. The Authority will look into doing this.
  • It was pointed out that right now many complaints involve the complainant feeling in the dark, and complainants seem to want to receive more regular updates.

Closing

The meeting ended at approximately 4pm and the Registrar thanked everyone for their attendance and contribution.

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