Although legally anybody can provide immigration services in South Africa, because it is an unprotected industry, I would like to give you a few good reasons why you should look out for a registered immigration practitioner or attorney when looking for an immigration advisor.
While in some countries only attorneys or advocates can provide immigration services, the USA being the most prominent example, a lot of countries have opted for immigration practitioners or for establishing a professional industry being allowed to provide immigration services.
For years South Africa also had a regulated industry, only immigration practitioner, attorneys and advocates were allowed to actually render immigration services. The immigration practitioner had to pass an exam, which had to be registered with the Department of Home Affairs and only then could one really practice.
However, subsequently to the law changes in 2014, Home Affairs opted to abolish the immigration practitioner and therefore making the industry an unregulated one. Without any professional requirements regulating the standards of this sector anybody could offer immigration advise to foreigners. The quality and professional conduct therefore varies hugely in this sector and many foreigners were taken advantge off, their hopes for a legal stay in South Africa destroyed by disappearing agents, blatantly wrong advise or just not preparing any application after receipt of the service fee.
The immigration sector therefore opted for a self-regulating approach. Subsequently, the Forum of Immigration Practitioners of South Africa “FIPSA” was formed. It is a voluntary body which today is registered with SAQA and has created specific immigration related professional titles. IPSA, being the most prominent one and standing for Immigration Practitioner South Africa.
If you would like to see, if your immigration advisors is actually registered as an immigration practitioners you should visit the FIPSA at under http://fipsa.org.za/ and look under members in good standing. You will see a list of roughly 50 registered members who are legally qualified to render immigration services.
I personally wrote and passed the first immigration practitioner test ever conducted in South Africa in 2004. Unfortunately, at that time I was not a South African citizen and subsequently was not allowed to register. A few years later I then wrote the entry exam for the FIPSA organisation and I have to admit that the entrance test was a true test of my professional skills and knowledge.
With more than 10 years of experience in the field, I still had to commit extra time for studying in order to know the act and the regulations by heart. I can confirm that the entrance exam is a true test of knowledge as well as professional conduct. Unfortunately FIPSA has not forced their members who were immigration practitioner registered with the DHA to write this exam. The FIPSA exam is so far only applicable to potential new members.
The professional qualification would be one good reason why I think a FIPSA registered member should be your immigration adviser. FIPSA conducts regular training sessions for it’s members, updates on policiy changes and most importantly shares changes in practises of Home Affairs.
Another reason is that FIPSA demands from its members to subscribe and adhere to a code of conduct. On infringement one can be expelled from FIPSA. Under this code of conduct we must not just obey all laws and regulations, but also not misrepresent any facts to the Department of Home Affairs. We forced to be objective and apply our skills with professional care.
If you have a complaint about an immigration practitioner you can complain on the FIPSA website for instance and FIPSA will then investigate the complaint and members have to be held accountable for possible infringements.
Furthermore, FIPSA regularly engages with the Department of Home Affairs on potential policy changes, practical shortfalls from the Department of Home Affairs, and suggests practical improvements on a regular basis.
All of the above does not mean that there are no non FIPSA registered immigration providers who are knowledgeable and provide sound immigration services in South Africa, of course not. However, if you are looking for some additional criteria beside a nice looking website, then looking for a registered immigration practitioner would certainly be a good starting point.
By Andreas Krensel