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Deportations reflect challenges of halting student visa fraud

Line of Defence, Summer 2016/17

Line of Defence Magazine’s editor ponders the great opportunity-risk dichotomy that is the Indian international student market, and the challenges it poses to New Zealand’s border integrity and economy.


In a shakedown seen by critics as largely punitive, dozens of international students from India were served deportation letters by INZ in September for producing fake documents. According to India’s High Commissioner in Wellington, unions and others, rather than targeting the students INZ should have targeted the offshore education agents they say perpetrated the fraud.

International education is big business, bringing more than $2.5 billion into the New Zealand economy, and offshore education agents play a key role in recruiting foreign students to our educational institutions.

These agents assist students with their enrolment and associated visa applications for a fee (from the student) and a commission (from the institution). The problem is that they are largely unregulated (unlike Licensed Immigration Advisers), and in the major source market of India this has led to massive systemic fraud among applications for student visas.

Complicating this is the fact that there is a preference among private training establishments (PTEs) and some institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs) for unlicensed agents, who in turn promote enrolment in lower level courses as a stepping stone to eventual residence in New Zealand via avenues such as the Post-Study Work Visa.

It’s a big problem, because India is the second largest and fastest growing source of international students in New Zealand, second only to China. According to Education New Zealand, there were more than 24,000 Indian students enrolled to study here in 2015, an increase of 50 percent from the year before.


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According to INZ, the visa approval rate for Indian nationals from January to end of July 2016 was 44.2 percent. In other words, more visa applications lodged by Indian nationals are being refused than approved. It’s a glaring statistic indicating that something is very wrong.

INZ’s website declares that their Mumbai Office is responsible for almost half of INZ’s global ‘Character Decline’ decisions (application declined due to fraud or false or misleading information). “Most fraud is driven and enabled by a large network of lower quality, unlicensed student agents,” it states, “with the worst agents using fraud in over 70% of their student applications submitted.”

For its part, INZ has stated that “holding agents accountable for their behaviour is a key pillar of Mumbai Office’s 2016 risk management strategy”. It has launched research efforts in relation to agents of concern, and where agents are found to be systemically utilising fraud, the Mumbai Office will be deploying counter-measures, including notifying education providers and recommending they cancel their contracts with these agents.

It’s an issue of pressing national interest. New Zealand competes for the student dollar in a competitive global market against the likes of the US, UK, Canada and Australia. As such, imposing an onerous regulatory regime on offshore student agents (akin to the licensed immigration adviser scheme) would risk leading agents to consider sending their clients elsewhere.

At the same time, measures such as deporting students who are already in New Zealand risk alienating various stakeholder groups, including the governments of student source countries, such as India. In relation to the deportations, for example, Indian High Commissioner Sanjiv Kohli‚Äč commented that it was "grossly unfair" to target the students after they had been granted visas without “proper scrutiny of their documents.”

In a recent Asia New Zealand Foundation report India & New Zealand: Growing our connectivity, which examines the New Zealand India relationship, former High Commissioner to India Graeme Waters writes that “The growth in the number of Indian students has been impressive, but it is now in both countries' interest to focus higher up the education value chain.”

Aiming higher up the value chain is a worthy long term objective. In the meantime, intelligent operational measures by INZ to identify fraud, tier risk, act on the data, and communicate the message are needed to disrupt the rogue agent modus operandi. Ultimately, reducing the number of fraudulent applications being lodged will result in less refusals and deportations due to fraud and the reputational safeguarding of a multi-billion-dollar industry.

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