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Applying ethics in the New Zealand immigration system

The importance of the licensing regime to New Zealand

The work advisers do is part of the New Zealand immigration system that is designed to improve international flows of people, ideas, investment and trade. There will be people who are simply not eligible under New Zealand immigration legislation for visas and who you will need to advise that there is nothing that can be done to assist them to come to New Zealand.

This is a difficult aspect of an adviser’s job and one that can place pressure on you to ‘try to find a way’. There is no duty for an adviser to take on every client and there will be situations when you need to tell a client there is nothing that can be done.

History of the licensing regime

In 2005 the Department of Labour (DoL) reported in their final Regulatory Impact Statement that complaints were being made to the Minister of Immigration, the DoL and industry associations about immigration advisers, both onshore and offshore. The reasons for these complaints included ‘lodging unfounded or abusive refugee status claims without the knowledge of the client, inaccurate advice about immigration policy leading to poor and costly decisions, failing to pass on information from the DoL to the client, knowingly submitting false or fraudulent documents to the DoL, and failure to provide services for which the member has been paid.’ The cumulative harm caused by these cases was significant.

It was recommended that a licensing regime, ‘requiring immigration advisers to meet minimum competence standards and comply with a code of conduct is likely to enhance the overall quality of advice provided by immigration advisers…Together with removing unethical and incompetent advisers from the industry, this will enhance the credibility and reputation of the industry as a whole.’

The Immigration Advisers Licensing Act was passed in 2007 and onshore licensing became mandatory from May 2009, with offshore licensing following from May 2010.


This history shows why the development of professional ethics in the immigration advice profession is so important. Each licensed immigration adviser needs to play a role in building a positive reputation for the profession – one of trusted partners in the wider New Zealand immigration system.

The nature of an adviser’s practice

Sole advisers

Many New Zealand immigration advisers work alone and may be at some disadvantage when it comes to acting ethically, because they may have no colleagues that they can turn to for guidance or for another view about how to act.

As mentioned in the ethical decision-making framework above, it is important that advisers discuss difficult ethical problems with others. Advisers who have not already done so should develop some strategies to overcome the limitations of working alone.

Some options could be:

  • joining a professional association
  • forming a group of like-minded advisers with similar interests or practices
  • asking an experienced adviser to provide mentoring.
Advisers working with others

If an adviser works with others they may have the advantage of numbers and the ability to share experiences (remembering confidentiality obligations), but they may find that there are other impacts on their ability to act ethically.

Some advisers may have obligations or loyalties to an employer or business partners. Although important, these can never override a duty to act ethically. This can be difficult and will inevitably impact on an adviser’s decision-making. However, wanting to please others is never a defence for unethical behaviour.

Advisers are responsible for ensuring that they can personally meet all obligations under the Code.