New Zealand immigration agent jailed over forged documents

05 September 2007

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A New Zealand immigration agent has been found guilty in Auckland District Court of forging numerous documents to fraudulently bring clients into New Zealand. Some of the documents provided were forged job offers.

He has been sentenced to two years and seven months in jail on four charges of using a forged document (Section 266 of the Crimes Act 1961) as well as an additional 20 charges of supplying false information to the New Zealand Department of Labour (Immigration Act 1987).

Carl Manning, Investigations Manager for the Department, described how Romney Lavea arranged false offers of employment to satisfy criteria for residence applications under the general skills category (now the skilled migrant category), mostly during 2003 and 2004. The majority of his clients were Chinese, Indian and Samoan nationals.

"Many people use immigration agents to help with the process of applying to visit, live or work in New Zealand, and the majority of these agents provide a legitimate, professional service," he said.

"Unfortunately, some take advantage of the system, and this can have real consequences on the people making applications."

"The Immigration Advisors Licensing Act, passed in April, will help tackle this problem because all people giving immigration advice will need to be licensed."

"To obtain and hold a license, advisers must meet competency standards and be 'fit' to practice. This includes consideration of any previous convictions."

The department has conducted 19 fraud prosecutions over the past five years against improper conduct by consultants, with an additional 220 people convicted for providing false qualifications, job offers, or other misleading information.

"The department takes immigration fraud extremely seriously," Mr. Manning said.

Some of the convictions were against people acting informally as agents. To obtain and hold a license, immigration consultants must meet standards and be "fit to practice," and the requirements are about to get more stringent.

New regulations and enforcement

The Department of Labour is characterizing the sentence handed out this week in Auckland as a strong policy message that "bending" immigration rules will not be tolerated.

In April of this year the Immigration Advisors Licensing Act was passed to put more teeth into regulation efforts. Mandatory licensing of all immigration advisers was passed into law by the Parliament from 01 May, making it an offense to "provide immigration advice without a license, unless exempt."

The implementation of the legislation will be staged during the next three years. The first year is an "establishment phase," which will involve recruitment of a Registrar, a Project Manager, and contractors. They will work together to establish the Immigration Advisers Authority and develop:

• the licensing process

• the complaints and disciplinary process

• the Code of Conduct and competency standards, and

• a communications strategy to alert current and potential immigration advisers and stakeholders on the progress of establishment, when consultation on competency standards and the code of conduct will occur, and what will be required of them.

New regulations will be required for several areas, including the setting of fees and levies. These regulations require Cabinet approval and legal drafting, after which they will come into force by an Order in Council.

During the second year, all immigration advisers can opt into the licensing system. From the start of year three, all onshore immigration advisers must be licensed, unless exempt. At the end of the three-year implementation period, all offshore immigration advisers must be licensed.