Widespread fraud found among education agencies representing Indian students
An Immigration New Zealand investigation has revealed widespread use of fake documents by Indian education agents to get students in to New Zealand.
The agents offer immigration advice and prepare student visas for Indian students wanting to study in New Zealand.
Documents released under the Official Information Act show 44 agents had been involved in the fraud in the March 2016 year alone.
In total, 57 agents had been identified as using fraudulent methods - some using fake documents for almost all of their applicants.
Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said the main fraud was creating false bank documents to show the student's family had access to funds to pay school fees.
He was representing around 20 students facing deportation from New Zealand to India who were unaware the documents prepared on their behalf by the agents had been fake.
There had always been fraud in the student visa market, he said, but it was getting worse as student numbers increased - with some students claiming to be victims and others culprits.
According to Statistics New Zealand, 9800 people arrived from India on student visas in the year to March 2016.
Immigration New Zealand general manager Stephen Dunstan said offshore agents providing immigration advice to New Zealand had to be licensed, except for those providing student visas.
The department had intelligence gathering and support resources for immigration officers in India and had created new standard operating procedures.
"The new [procedures] has been highly effective with 145 such cases identified as at 11 June, along with 151 cases involving other types of fraud. These applications have been declined."
Where there was concern the methods had been used, the students were identified and served deportation notices "where appropriate," he said.
Two of the students McClymont was representing - who did not want want their full names used - said they were ashamed to be victims.
A student named Imran said he didn't want to go back to India without completing his degree. He was afraid he had wasted his time and money coming to New Zealand and being deported would bring shame upon his family in India.
"We want to learn something here, achieve something here. If we go back, what was the use," he said.
Imran only found out about the false documentation when he was approached by Immigration New Zealand, and said he was "shattered".
"I'm not sure what will happen in my future. Will I be able to complete my studies or not?"
Another student, Kieran, said he was not sure how he ended up facing deportation as he had done nothing wrong. He was disappointed in New Zealand and ashamed to have come here, especially after contributing to the economy.
"We are spending our money here. We are helping New Zealand in the revenue part," he said.
"I feel bad being part of New Zealand."
McClymont wants the Government to make amendments to the Immigration Advisors Licensing Act which would see overseas education agents licensed and regulated.
However, Christine Clark, chairwoman of the Independent Tertiary Education New Zealand board, said regulating would have huge ramifications.
"If we start putting compliance on the agents, then all the agent's going to do is say New Zealand's too hard and we're going to send students to Australia and Canada."
Most independent organisations checked the credibility of agents and generally did not work with the bad ones - however, there was no real way to tell, she said.
"We're told that it's our responsibility to be working with good agents but some of those agents marked as fraudulent are actually licensed agents."
Immigration New Zealand should be informing education providers as to who the fraudulent agents were so the providers could cease using them, she said.
Dunstan said in the current review of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act, the exemption of offshore student agents was "being looked at".
Education New Zealand was also reviewing the Recognised Agency Programme it had for agencies with a record of success in New Zealand, he said.