There are plenty of desperate migrants ready to put their last penny to gain residency in New Zealand.
The only difference is the level of desperation.
All of us have heard about migrants who slave up to 80 hours a week but receive payment for only 20 hours. We have also heard that they would go to any extreme lengths including payment of large sums of money to their employers to get residency.
It is illegal for employers to charge or receive money for sponsoring or supporting permanent residence applications of migrant workers.
You may have read or heard about a new immigrant who paid a dairy owner $30,000 to manipulate the documents required by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) for issue of permanent resident visa.
Apart from complaining bitterly and blaming employers for being corrupt, we have not bothered to find out why this really happens.
How did it come to this dismal stage?
The truth is that we have turned a blind eye to such problems, just as INZ officials did, even after knowing that these practices have grown to scandalous proportions.
INZ has in fact been steadily relaxing the rules for international students as far as the minimum requirement of the English language is concerned to enter the country. The International English Language Test (IELT) is no longer mandatory.
Earlier, a potential migrant had to show the required funds in his or her bank account with an explanation of their source. This requirement has also been removed. No one wants to know how you got the money as long as you show a good account balance.
Unfortunately, students are caught in the web of deceit as they are being completely misled by the student agents overseas.
Some overseas agents tell students who want to pursue engineering or higher studies in New Zealand to merely enrol for a short-term course in smaller institutes that proliferate in almost all important parts of our cities.
Approval of Visas for these studies is faster and easier. Institutes that look great on the web are out to make a quick buck. Their modus operandi is to offer student agents 50% cut (sometimes a higher percentage) making their courses and programmes cheaper compared to universities of repute that offer only a small percentage of commission.
On the other hand, students wanting to change their career to pursue a course in areas declared under the Skills Shortage List are being hoodwinked. INZ declines applications of a majority of students who graduate through these cheap courses and programmes.
Little wonder then, that unscrupulous agents recommend institutes that are run by fly-by- night operators. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) has shut down many of these dodgy institutes for non-compliance of the regulations in force.
Sadly, even bright students who had initially set out to do an engineering degree end up enrolling in low value courses that do not get them jobs only in the fast food industry.
A few others work for companies owned by migrants. The cycle of exploitation continues unabated.
Things get worse when the student applies for residency and INZ informs him or her that their existing job does not count. The noose around their neck tightens, forcing them into illegal activities in order to stay put in New Zealand.
There are also cases of young migrants (both male and female) entering matrimony as a ‘better route’ towards permanent residence. Fake marriages and ‘Marriages of Convenience’ are also on the rise.
The government lures international students to study here to increase its revenue through export education. INZ officials look at student visas and residency permits as two different issues.
But to many migrants, student visa is a route to gain employment and residency. It therefore comes as a rude shock when they are told that their application has been declined. Apart from losing substantial time and sums of money, these students and migrants reach their wit’s end.
Why does this scam continue?
I have met scores of disparate students who have said that while their primary interest was pursuing professional courses such as engineering, their agents in India encouraged them to enrol in low quality courses.
It is a pity that their families back home have gone in to huge debt to fund their college fees and the ‘ransom’ money demanded by their local employer to help in their residency application.
If adequate guidance was provided initially, the amount invested by these students from start to finish could have easily got them an engineering qualification. These graduate engineers could have then been employed in Christchurch rebuild.
INZ should clarify whether an entry-level course will slim down the student’s chances of getting a job or residency. There should have clear-cut rules and regulations so that young men and women are not taken for a ride.
The authorities should decide whether the country needs just numbers or students who are serious about their studies. They should also take action against rogue agents.
Unscrupulous people should not be allowed to meddle with the education and the future of the student community.
Every year, thousands of young men and women arrive in New Zealand with dreams and hopes. It is our combined duty to ensure that they are led in the right direction and not exploited by the agents, employers and worst of all by the system.
If New Zealand can attract the right type of students who concentrate on their studies and obtain qualification, we can solve the skills shortage problem on the one hand and end their exploitation on the other.
We should stop chasing the victims, while allowing the offenders a field day.
Saif Shaikh is a Licensed Immigration Adviser and Director of Immigration Advice NZ Ltd based at (Level 1) 166 Harris Road, East Tamaki, Auckland. He can be contacted on (09) 2724424; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.immigrationadvicenz.com