Students are people, not commodities, please

Priyanca Radhakrishnan – 

New Zealand has an international reputation for fairness.

The adage of giving everyone a fair go is one that resonates strongly with us.

Given our claim to fair-mindedness, it was extremely disappointing that the government deported a group of Indian international students who are themselves victims of fraud.

These students paid large sums of money to study here.

They were granted valid student visas.

Those who had to work did so lawfully.

Many aspired of travelling around New Zealand and experience the stunning natural beauty for which New Zealand is world famous.

Fear of punishment

Instead, for over nine months, they lived in fear of punishment for something that they did not deserve.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) found out that some education agents in India had committed fraud and it is the students who paid the price.

Some people have said that they do not believe that the students are innocent.

Frankly, that should not matter.

INZ should be able to prove that the students acted unlawfully themselves or knew that their agents were committing fraud.

When we serve deportation notices, we should not base such decisions on feelings, but on hard evidence – and there did not appear to be any.

Labour Party Leader Andrew Little met the students concerned many times.

At their behest, he looked through their documentation.

I have also met with and spoken to them many times.

The students told me that they had filled in their name and personal details. Then they gave their passport and supporting documentation to the agent who dealt with the application from them on. The agent then swapped the students’ bank documentation for falsified documents.

The students only found out about this after INZ did so.

Personal experience

On February 18, 2017, I spoke at a farewell event that was held at the Unitarian Church where the students were seeking symbolic sanctuary.

It was an event for them to thank people for their support and bid them farewell.

Su’a William Sio, Labour’s Member of Parliament elected from Mangere and I spoke on behalf of the Labour Party.

I said that I understood how their story could be true because one of my family members did something quite similar.

Some years back, I got a call from INZ in India regarding a Visitor Visa application by a family member (let’s call her Maya), who was visiting New Zealand. The Immigration official wanted my bank details to show that I could support Maya during her visit.

That was not the understanding as Maya had more funds than I did!

When I dug deeper, I discovered that Maya had signed the visa application form and filled her personal details.

She then handed the supporting documentation, fee and passport to the travel agent who was trusted (and paid) to complete the remaining paperwork on Maya’s behalf.

Sounds familiar? Maya had no need to do this – she speaks fluent English, has a Master’s degree and had lived abroad for 30 years.

Differing norms

However, that was the norm in India – that was what everyone did – and she was lulled into complacency and paying for a service she trusted.

We must understand that contexts can be very different.

What is not the norm in New Zealand may well be the norm elsewhere.

That is why we do not judge others by our own experiences and contexts – we need to understand theirs.

That is also why we should make deportation decisions based on facts and not preconceived notions.

Deporting these students was a cruel, arbitrary decision made by a government that views international students as commodities.

Everyone who comes to New Zealand deserves to be treated with respect.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan is a voracious reader, champions social and community causes and is a strong advocate of ethnic and gender diversity in corporate governance and in public life. She is a Member of the Labour Party Policy Council and lives in Auckland. She is Labour Party’s candidate at the Maungakiekie constituency in the general elections to be held on September 23, 2017.


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