An Auckland woman has been sentenced to 10 months home detention and ordered to pay $6420 reparation for illegally providing New Zealand immigration advice in the Tongan community.
Maria 'Ilaisaane Valu-Pome'e, who is of Tongan nationality, was sentenced in the Waitakere District Court after pleading guilty to 14 charges laid by the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA).
An IAA investigation found the former lawyer was providing New Zealand immigration advice without holding a licence or having an exempt status, IAA registrar Catherine Albiston said.
Valu-Pome'e was charged with 10 counts under the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 for providing immigration advice without a licence, for holding herself out as a licensed immigration adviser, and for asking for or receiving a fee.
She was also charged with four charges under the Crimes Act 1961, two for using forged documentation and two for dishonestly using documents.
Valu-Pome'e was previously exempt from the requirement to be licensed. However, after her practicing certificate from the New Zealand Law Society expired in July 2013, she no longer qualified for the exemption to provide immigration advice.
"Mrs Valu-Pome'e provided immigration advice illegally to members of the Tongan community, including a Greymouth family, a couple, and a mother and daughter based in Auckland.
"All of the victims were unlawfully residing in New Zealand when they finished their dealings with Mrs Valu-Pome'e. She didn't successfully obtain a visa for any of them," Albiston said.
"This case serves as a strong reminder the IAA will not tolerate those who provide unlawful New Zealand immigration advice at the expense of vulnerable communities."
The IAA ran a campaign earlier this year to raise awareness among Pacific communities in New Zealand, as well as in Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, that unlawful immigration advice can cause significant stress and problems for visa applicants.
"Anyone seeking immigration advice should use a licensed adviser or someone who is exempt, such as a current New Zealand lawyer," Albiston said.
A register of licensed advisers is available on the IAA website.
The IAA investigates complaints made by the public about unlicensed immigration advice.
Individuals found breaking the law can face up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
"Anyone can talk to the IAA about their experience without their immigration status being affected," Albiston said.