Almost 300 Chinese students were found to have an invalid New Zealand visa obtained with fraudulent information.
25 July 2012
New Zealand visa scam solved
A scam which saw 279 Chinese students receive a fraudulent New Zealand visa and many of them make it into the country successfully has caused a major embarrassment to New Zealand immigration authorities but can be traced back to a single immigration agent.
A routine audit of over 1,000 New Zealand visa applications to the Immigration New Zealand (INZ) Beijing office earlier this month unearthed 279 student applications which used fraudulent documents to support the applications including falsified bank statements and manufactured qualifications.
INZ identified 246 of the students were currently in New Zealand and an investigation was launched into locating them; INZ confirmed it had apprehended 36 last week, with five being prepared for deportation. Several of the Chinese nationals were found to have been working in a vineyard as opposed to studying.
While all of the students are technically liable for deportation, INZ has said that cases will be judged on an individual basis and as many of the students with fraudulent visas were reportedly unaware of the invalidity of their visa and some whose invalid visas had not yet expired have since been provided with genuine replacement visas.
INZ chief Steve Stuart has travelled to the Beijing office where the fraudulent applications were filed and has said that all 279 applications appear to have originated with one immigration agent.
The man has been detained but reportedly refuses to be interviewed and is due to meet with Chinese authorities this week, who will decide whether he will be prosecuted.
Mr Stuart said he would also be meeting with Chinese officials to discuss a course of action, both against the man and how to ensure a similar scam doesn't occur.
The scam has caused a major embarrassment to New Zealand officials but one ex-Bay of Plenty hostel manager said abuse of the system is rife and there are many similar instances to the Chinese nationals ostensibly in the country to study but actually working in vineyards and farms.
Ken Heng, who previously managed a backpacker hostel in Tauranga, said many overseas nationals entered the country on a working holiday visa and when it expired, registered with educational institutions and kept up the facade of study for months at a time.
"Once they finished their working holiday visas, they tend to go up to Auckland, sign up with a private school, get a student pass and go back to work," said Mr Heng.
"It's very organised, there's a lot of them that would drive up from Napier, Hastings or the eastern Bay of Plenty to Auckland once a fortnight just to mark attendance, sign off some work they haven't even done and it just keeps going and going."
Mr Heng claims the problem is not only rife but no attempt is made to hide the fact:
"Everybody knows about Te Puke. That's somewhere you can go to if you haven't got a work permit or you're not in country legally. It’s pretty famous - for the wrong reasons unfortunately."
While the national government combats the negative publicity in the aftermath of the Beijing-based New Zealand visa scam, Western Bay District Council Mayor Ross Paterson played down the implications of illegal immigrants being employed in the country.
"I think it still part of economic growth and getting things to happen," said the mayor.
"It's allowing us to get on with servicing those orchards and the work that they do and getting the work done."
The New Zealand Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy that specialises in helping people apply for a New Zealand Working Holiday Visa.