New Zealand Crackdown on foreign student scam
1.00pm Monday May 22, 2006
A scam by foreign students is said to be costing the country millions of dollars.
The Government is now to crackdown on the guardians of young fee-paying foreign students abusing the visa system.
Immigration Minister David Cunliffe said some students have been using the international student policy as a means of gaining a work permit and getting their children's schooling paid for by the state.
Since changes in 2003, 7000 guardians had come to New Zealand and 798 of them had obtained a full work visa.
Mr Cunliffe told National Radio: “Up to 10 per cent of guardian visas are now being transferred to a work permit which means up to 10 per cent of international fee-paying students are no longer paying fees to the schools they are studying and that's just not acceptable.”
He said not all cases were a deliberate attempt to abuse the system. But there was growing evidence that some people were using the international student policy as a backdoor means of gaining a work permit “and that's not why it's there”.
Not only did the school lose the international fees but the Government was then having to pay for those students to be educated here, he said.
Mr Cunliffe said he did not have a figure on how much the scam was costing the Government but said he imagined it would be in the millions. He had not seen evidence of any organised scams but he had heard anecdotes.
Education providers welcomed the crackdown.
Education New Zealand chief executive Robert Stevens said the group, which represents international education providers, had been lobbying for it for several months.
“A number of schools had bought this matter to our attention, and were concerned that the guardians may not be focussing on their prime role — looking after the students,” he said.
“Although only around 10 per cent of guardianship visa holders have actually transitioned to another visa status, we could see a growing trend.”
He said the scheme was intended to ensure that very young international students were looked after out of school hours and schools would now be more confident that was the case.
New Zealand First immigration spokesman Peter Brown said the change was a good move, but the Government needed to tighten other parts of the immigration system that were vulnerable to fraud.
He hoped that would be achieved through a wide-ranging review of the Immigration Act, initiated as part of NZ First's support agreement with the Government.
But Greens immigration spokeswoman Metiria Turei said to make changes based on “anecdotal” information was shortsighted.
“The Government has provided no independent research into whether this level was unduly high or widely driven by fraudulent intent, before the decision to change the rules was taken.”
She said those breaking the rules should be prosecuted, without changing the rules for everyone else.