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Nine Indian students sought sanctuary in Auckland Unitary Church after their visas were cancelled last year by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) following a crackdown on application fraud.
The students, who are only a handful of the 191 issued with Deportation Liability Notices or Deportation Orders by INZ, faced deportation after their appeal was rejected on February 2.
They had applied for visas through educational agents in India, paying, in some cases, upward of $20,000 each for their application.
According to their lawyer, Alastair McClymont, the agents submitted fraudulent documents to INZ without the knowledge of his clients and were “paid a commission by the New Zealand school.”
The Minister for Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, expressed little sympathy for the students and stated that they were not victims.
“They may have taken bad advice but they are responsible for all of the information that is provided on a visa application.”
Of the original nine, Shujath Ullah Baig Mirza was arrested on the morning of February 15 after he spent the night away from the church. He was held in police cells for two nights and deported, with three other students from Tauranga, on February 18.
In a late show of clemency, INZ agreed not to enforce the deportation orders against the other students before February 22 and the students have left the church.
INZ is considering a mechanism that would allow the students to depart New Zealand voluntarily and re-apply for a student visa once back in India.
VUWSA President, Rory Lenihan-Ikin, stated that it’s “great that INZ is going to allow them to re-apply, but why not allow them to re-apply from New Zealand rather than having to travel all the way back to India?”
“International students are treated as cash cows by our government. Showing a small bit of compassion here is the least we can do.”
Reverend Clay Nelson, of Auckland Unitary Church, stated that instead of punishing the students “we need to be looking at the whole process.”
They were “targeted as scapegoats and the problem is much bigger and much deeper. New Zealand bears culpability… we have made education a commodity and we’re making a lot of money in New Zealand by selling, in many cases, sub-standard education to international students.”
When approached by Salient, Victoria University Vice-Chancellor Grant Guilford stated that he “is not privy to the facts in the Indian visa fraud issue” and “is unable to comment in any useful way.”