Immigration adviser vs immigration lawyer – whose help do you need?

If you are planning on migrating to New Zealand, or are currently living here on a visa but are looking for help, where can you get the right guidance? New Zealand has laws and regulations in place that specify who can legally give immigration advice, as to protect those that seek it. In your search for assistance, you’re likely to come across both immigration advisers and immigration lawyers, who are both qualified to legally provide advice. But what’s the difference between the two? And which is right for your case? In this article, we discuss the differences so you can choose the help you need. 

Navigating New Zealand’s immigration system can be difficult. And knowing your future in New Zealand relies on getting the paperwork right makes the entire process much more fraught. You need the assistance that ensures you have the best chance of success.

In New Zealand, there are several different options for immigration advice, depending on your needs. If you have only a minor query and are already residing in New Zealand, you may be able to get the help you need free of charge from the Citizens Advice Bureau or a Community Law Centre. These organisations will also be able to refer you to the correct help if your situation is more involved.

If you already know you require more help (i.e., you need guidance in finding and applying for the right visa, settling in New Zealand, or assessing your situation if your visa has expired or been declined) New Zealand law permits that only a licensed practitioner can assist you. A licensed practitioner could be either an immigration adviser (also known as an immigration consultant) or an immigration lawyer.

So, how do you know which practitioner is best suited for you? There are several elements to consider.

  • What is your case?

Both an immigration lawyer and an adviser can help you with finding and applying for the right visa, settling in New Zealand, or assessing your situation if your visa has expired, or been cancelled or declined.

For situations that are complex, or for those that require an appeal to the High Court or legal expertise, an immigration lawyer is a better option. An immigration lawyer has the legal authority to represent you in court, which will save you the hassle, time, and money of hiring a third party.

With an immigration lawyer you can have the benefit of having just one person with a deep understanding of your specific case assist you through the whole process. This is crucial if cases are complicated, or if you have limited time to appeal. If issues arise further down the line, you can call on the same immigration lawyer for help, again saving you the time and money of explaining all relevant past events. One example of such an issue arising is when established migrants receive a Deportation Liability Notice connected to employment issues.

An immigration lawyer can also be more helpful for those looking at applying for an Investment Visa. If you want to make an investment in New Zealand for the purpose of gaining a visa, you will be dealing with large sums of money ­– NZD$3 million or more. It is essential in this case that you get advice from a legal professional as there are specifics on where and what these investments can go into. You will also gain added security in knowing your investment is in safe hands. New Zealand Immigration Law has several trusted financial advisers we can refer clients to.

An immigration lawyer is also more suitable if you need a waiver (e.g., a medical or a character waiver) or if you are a business wishing to become an Accredited Employer. Both of these applications require a large amount of evidential documentation, and it can be difficult to know exactly what evidence will suffice. You don’t want to go through the arduous process of preparing an application and paying for it, to then find out you missed something or haven’t proved your eligibility. This is not only incredibly time-consuming and frustrating but also very expensive. An immigration lawyer understands the application process in depth and is likely to be able to assess quickly whether your case will be successful as well as to ascertain what evidence you need to provide.

When your life in New Zealand or your business is at stake, you need someone who can deal with the situation quickly and thoroughly. If your visa is due to expire, if you are faced with deportation, or if you are an employer who needs to make a quick hire of many international employees, you will probably be faced with a fast turnaround. The speed with which an experienced immigration lawyer can work through the system is a huge advantage in dealing with these cases.

Aaron Martin, Principal Lawyer at New Zealand Immigration Law, has successfully helped many in these situations. One client who required a fast hire of multiple international employees says of Aaron’s legal help: “[Aaron] was able to put [potential migrant employees] at ease… not only as a result of his knowledge and expertise but also because of his extraordinary manner. He treated our clients not as cases but as individuals by sitting down with each and every employee and simply listening to their stories.”

  • How much qualification experience does the person advising me have?

The level of experience and knowledge that both immigration lawyers and immigration advisers hold is an important part of deciding who is best suited to your immigration needs.

The Immigration Advisers Licensing Act that regulates the standards of advisers was put into practise in 2007. This means advisers have been officially practising to a legal standard for only 11 years. The immigration adviser’s license requires one year of study and is required to be renewed annually to ensure their knowledge is relevant and up to date.

An immigration lawyer, on the other hand, must complete at least four years of study at university level in order to legally provide immigration advice. Immigration lawyers have been officially able to provide this advice long before the immigration advisers Act came into play in 2007. This in itself means the experience of a lawyer usually exceeds that of an adviser.

Aaron, for example, has worked in immigration law for over 22 years. His legal background combined with his two decades of experience has resulted in a broad and comprehensive knowledge, as well as the ability to assess and prepare cases quickly and at a very high standard.

Aaron has worked on complicated cases such as deportation, medical and character waivers, and business accreditations for clients both in New Zealand and overseas. One client of Aaron’s, Shareena, sought his advice when applying for visas for herself and her husband, who is an incomplete paraplegic requiring a wheelchair. The online process of trying to figure out their eligibility was, in Shareena’s words, “very, very stressful” and incomprehensive. While the case was being worked on, Shareena discovered she was diabetic, meaning they now had to apply for two medical waivers for their skilled migrant visas. Shareena says: “Aaron adapted quickly and supported us by saying ‘this is what we’re going to do’ and ‘these are the steps we need to take’, and in general assured us that what we were doing was right”.

  • How much will it cost?

Last – but most certainly not least – is the obvious question of cost. If you are lucky enough to find a “not-for-profit” immigration service provider, please ensure that they are a legitimate and legal source of advice.

Currently, New Zealand has no set threshold on how much an immigration adviser or lawyer should or can charge for their services. Both lawyers and advisers vary in price, often aligned with how much experience they have. Prices for an adviser can range from $150 for a consultation, to an excess of $5,000 for a full visa service. For an immigration lawyer, prices also vary, usually in accordance with the service required.

If you have already prepared your own case (or feel that you can), and just want someone to review your documentation and give advice on whether your case is strong enough, these fees may seem exorbitant. This is why New Zealand Immigration Law offers immigration clinic appointments at a set rate of $425, which covers 90 minutes of concise assistance from our principal lawyer, Aaron Martin. Advisory firms generally charge by the hour for any services, and costs can quickly escalate. Some firms advise that a general appointment fee could range between $500 and $750.

If you require more than 90 minutes of help, a lawyer may be the cheaper option regardless, as a lawyer’s level of experience will mean they can help you faster, and get it right the first time. Aaron has saved many people the time, money, and heartbreak that can ensue with the wrong – or no – help.

We understand the financial and emotional strain the immigration process entails for all. Choosing the right assistance – be it an immigration adviser, immigration lawyer, or someone else – will be one of the most important decisions you need to make in your immigration journey.

If you’d like to book a 90-minute immigration clinic appointment, you can do so here.

If you are interested in finding out more about immigration advisers, check out the Immigration Advisers Authority website.

If you need help with deportation, waivers, investment visas, or have another case to discuss please contact the office here.