A man - called an "immigration champion" by Auckland's Thai community - has been sentenced to four months home detention and ordered to pay $7050 reparation to victims for giving unlicensed immigration advice.
Timothy Joseph Spooner, 66, pleaded guilty in May to five charges laid by the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) for providing advice to immigrants when neither licensed nor exempt.
The charges related to advice on student, visitor, work, and resident visa applications, as well as advising one of his victims in respect of an appeal to the Immigration & Protection Tribunal.
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They include four representative counts of providing immigration advice without being licensed or exempt, and one representative charge of asking for or receiving a fee.
NZ Thai Society president Songvut Manoonpong told the Herald after the charges were laid last year that the community was in shock because they all had the impression Spooner had been a licensed adviser.
"Many in the Thai community considered Tim to be their immigration champion," Manoonpong said at the time.
Spooner had helped many in the community with their immigration matters, Manoonpong said, including Naengnoi Sriphet, a Thai national with NZ citizenship who was jailed in 2015 for recruiting women from Thailand to work illegally as sex workers in Auckland.
The Immigration Advisers Authority said Spooner never applied for an immigration adviser's licence and was not exempt from being licensed.
Registrar Andrew Galloway said this type of knowingly repeated offending was not only unacceptable but unlawful and would not be tolerated.
"Mr Spooner was clearly advised on a number of occasions of his obligation to be licensed under the Act. He acknowledged that he intended to become licensed and despite repeated reminders, a formal interview, caution and warning and plenty of advice from the IAA over a long period of time; he failed to meet the requirements of the Act," Galloway said.
His clients were migrants and international students hoping to live and study in New Zealand.
He told his clients he had helped several people with their visas and he knew immigration processes and regulations.
One victim was told to lie to authorities by saying he had only assisted in filling the visa application forms and that he had not provided immigration advice, and asked another to cross out sections on the form that asked for details of any immigration adviser, or person assisting the applicant.
"This is an example of someone who has taken advantage of vulnerable migrants, particularly, in the Thai and Cambodian community," Galloway said.
One victim was no longer able to reside in New Zealand as a consequence of Spooner's unlicensed advice.
During sentencing, the judge noted that one of the victims described panic and fear when they realised Spooner was not licensed, which led to feelings of shame and embarrassment.
"This emphasises the severity of the impact people giving unlicensed immigration advice can have on the consumers of immigration advice, in addition to potential harm to New Zealand's international reputation," said Galloway.
The authority urged those who need help with immigration matters to only use a licensed adviser or exempt person.
Those found breaking the law can face up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.