Indian couple: we're paying the price for inept Immigration New Zealand
A young Indian couple sit in the quiet church office on the edge of bitter tears.
Vikram Salaria and Ashe Ranai said it's not their fault Ashe's Indian immigration agent lied on her student visa forms.
Ordered to leave New Zealand, Ashe faces imminent deportation after immigration officials here uncovered widespread visa fraud she's caught up in.
With their two-year-old daughter Khwahish, the couple have taken refuge with about a dozen other students facing deportation at Ponsonby's Unitarian Church. The church gives no legal protection, but the students are using it as symbolic sanctuary.
About 150 students around New Zealand face deportation, Church Reverend Clay Nelson offered sanctuary for a few in Auckland hoping to raise the profile of the student's plight with the public.
"It's a symbolic sanctuary, we're not going to resist if police and immigration come and try to deport them, but to try and draw attention to their plight," Nelson said.
"They're all out of appeals to immigration, this is an appeal to the court of the public.
"Hopefully Kiwis will see the injustice here and speak out," Nelson said.
Husband and wife Vikram and Ranai and Nelson said Immigration New Zealand and the Government need to stop blaming the innocent students and take responsibility for the situation they helped create.
But on Friday Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse denied the students were victims.
Anyone who submitted a visa application was responsible for ensuring information supplied was correct - no matter who filled it out.
But the Indian students, including Vikram and Ranai who paid more than $50,000 for visas through their Indian immigration agent, said Immigration New Zealand failed to vet the applications that the couple's agent assured them he would complete properly.
However "the students are primarily from agricultural regions, they don't have the knowledge or sophistication to evaluate [visa documents], they go see their agent and sign," Nelson said.
"New Zealand advertised in India 'what a wonderful place it is to come and study', we've offered training to these [Indian] immigration agents but we don't monitor them.
Vikram said: "We are innocent, we didn't do anything wrong, if we did fraud why did they give us a visa?"
"[Immigration New Zealand] had 27 days to check our documents ," Ashe said.
The couple, both from rural Punjab in northern India, now face long-term consequences including humiliation if Ashe is deported home.
"I can't imagine how we're going to go back and face our parents," Vikram said.
"It's a shameful thing and if your passport is stamped with deportation you can't apply [to any country] for any job, in India as well, even my daughter's future is stopped," Ashe said.
When asked about their future the couple slump in their seats in the church office.
Vikram answers: "We don't have any future, we can't talk about life now, we spent a lot and now we've got nothing."