An immigration adviser who left his wife to work on a client's case has been censured and fined a total of $5500 by the Immigration Advisers Complaints and Disciplinary Tribunal.
The adviser, Damon Parker, managing director of Swiftvisa, was representing a Chinese national applying for residence under the skilled migrant category, but left his unlicensed wife Jessie Cheng to handle the application.
He was found by the tribunal to have breached the Licensed Immigration Adviser's Code of Conduct, having failed to personally take responsibility for client engagement.
It also found he had also made other breaches, including filing an expression of interest with Immigration NZ which had little chance of success without advising the client.
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Parker was censured and ordered to pay the Immigration Advisers Authority Registrar $2500 and the client who made the complaint $3000.
Tribunal chair David Plunkett said it was a fundamental obligation of immigration advisers to engage directly and personally with their clients.
"It was found that he [Parker] had left the bulk of client communications to unlicensed staff, particularly his wife," Plunkett said.
"It is no justification that it is easier for a client whose first language is not English to communicate with staff who speak the client's own language."
Plunkett said if necessary, an interpreter could be used, but this was not required in this case because the complainant and her partner had a reasonable level of English.
"I regard the breach of this obligation as serious," Plunkett said.
"Clients are entitled to expect that advisers will personally handle their immigration applications and will directly communicate with them."
But he said Parker's failure was not at the upper end of such breaches.
"He did have some contact with the complainant...a lack of engagement with the client is often coupled with a lack of engagement with the client's file, but that was not the case here," he said.
Parker was also found to have been unprofessional for withholding from his client a letter of concern from INZ although she was aware of its existence.
The client was a student in New Zealand and working as a chef. She had contacted Swiftvisa to assist with her application when she was offered a permanent position.
An expression of interest and residence application was filed with the cover letter signed by Parker, but INZ found the points claimed did not meet visa requirements.
The residence application was declined on the grounds that the applicant had inaccurately declared that she had a current skilled employment of 12 months and withheld information without a reasonable basis.
The client filed a complaint against Parker to the authority saying she was left to work with Parker's wife and that he had initially refused to show her a letter of concern by INZ.
She sought $12,672.50 in compensation, including for lawyer consultation fees and $5000 for mental damage.
However, the tribunal found the lawyer's fees had not been shown to have arisen out of Parker's wrongdoing and decided also not to make any award for stress or mental suffering.