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Minister vows to end exploitation of students

The Government and Immigration New Zealand (INZ) will not hesitate to take stringent measures to curb the exploitation of international students, particularly those from India, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said.

Speaking at a meeting convened by officials of the New Zealand Indian Central Association (NZICA) at Mahatma Gandhi Centre on August 8, he said that he had instructed the concerned officials to focus on the issue.

Stringent measures

“Students are vulnerable and suffer silently. They are very reluctant to speak. The Government will introduce an amendment to the existing laws to award penalties to employers who exploit international students and migrant workers. Such penalties could entail a fine of up to $100,000 and/or seven years in jail,” he said.

The meeting was a part of the on-gong discussions that Mr Woodhouse has been entertaining with the Association since he took charge of the portfolio earlier in the year (Indian Newslink, July 1, 2013). One of the greatest challenges that INZ faces is the rising number of fake job offers, falsified documents and cases of fraud that compel the visa processing authorities to exercise greater caution.

Risk management is a major issue for immigration officials, leading to inevitable delays in processing of Work Visas, Student Permits and even Visit Visas.

Wide representation

Among the Government officials present were Visa Services Assistant General Manager Peter Elms, Delhi based INZ Area Manager Simon Smith, INZ Mumbai Area Manager Nathanael Mackay and Minister’s Private Secretary Lauren Deslandes.

Representing NZICA were Harshad Patel (President), Bhikhu Bhana (Vice President), Prakash Biradar (General Secretary), Manjit Singh (Treasurer), Paul Singh Bains

(Immediate Past President), Ashok Darji, Prithipal Singh, Nanette Nathoo, Beant Singh Jador, Chandu Daji, Dinesh Tailor, Bipin Patel, Tulsi Patel and Sangeeta Patel.

Openness needed

Prithipal Singh, who chairs the NZICA Immigration Committee, suggested establishing ‘open channels,’ in order that people are aware of the risks involved and why applications are declined or delayed.

“Exploitation of workers and students from India is a cause of huge concern now. We need to strengthen communication between the Government and NZICA. As a long established organisation, we are keen to promote the good image of New Zealand internationally,” he said.

Stating that exploitation was close to human trafficking, Mr Elms said that a close watch was required to arrest its trend.

“We note that many people are being victimised and hence it is important to work with community organisations, as they have first-hand knowledge of exploitation and offer suitable advice. Criminals will always find their way into the country and hence we must establish a firm stand that would send a strong message that such things will not be tolerated and exploitation will not be allowed in this country,” he said.

Licensing Agents

Mr Biradar emphasised the need for licensing agents handing student visa applications (as in the case of immigration) to prevent fraud.

“An increasing number of students are being misguided and hence INZ should process only applications filed by approved agents,” he said.

Mr Smith said that there were practical difficulties in putting in place such a regime.

“People will find ways of circumventing rules by becoming subagents of licensed agents. This is a battle which will make the students suffer the most. We are however doing our best in handling such cases,” he said.

Skilled migrants

Acknowledging that India is a huge market for human resources, Mr Elms said, “Indian nationals do well in New Zealand. Our major challenge is to identify highly skilled migrants and facilitate their migration. The support of NZICA is necessary to achieve our objectives,” he said.

Indian Newslink has carried reports in its recent issues, highlighting allegations of immigration consultants and lawyers that INZ in Delhi was discriminating against Indians, especially while processing relationship visas.

Mr Smith admitted that there were delays but assured that the situation had changed over the past fortnight (since he took charge).

“We acknowledge that there have been problems in the past in relationship visas but from now on applications will be assessed properly,” he said.

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