English language schools whose students entered New Zealand on fraudulently obtained visas say they had no way of knowing about the scam.
A routine audit by Immigration New Zealand's Beijing branch last month uncovered 279 fraudulent visas. Of that total, 231 students are still in the country with the visas and authorities are trying to track them down.
The scheme involved education advisors in Beijing either working with or on behalf of students to gather fake documents in support of their visa application.
The documents, including bank statements and education certificates, were then taken to Immigration New Zealand's office in Beijing where the visas were granted.
"It's not a fraudulent visa, it's a visa that's been issued by Immigration New Zealand," language school principal Evan McKenzie-Bowie told ONE News. "So we have no way of checking up on that."
He believes several of his students were involved in the scam and while some stopped turning up to classes, others never let on.
Immigration New Zealand is asking for the students involved to come forward, but believe many are already in hiding to avoid being deported.
"The fact that it's been difficult to locate many of them would indicate that while they may have been studying here at one point, they obviously had other ideas as to what they might do here," Steve Stuart from Immigration New Zealand said.
The organisation says there is "zero tolerance" for people involved in visa fraud, and it has two teams operating in Auckland to track down the students.
'The tip of the iceberg'
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said the fraud scandal
is just "the tip of the iceberg" and he is calling for an
Peters says immigration has been one of the worst departments in the country for a long time.
"This is exactly the kind of problem when you hand over a vital stage of border security to officials from foreign countries."
Labour's export education spokesperson Raymond Huo said yesterday that the case is evidence that the rules in relation to assessing qualifications and visa processes should be tightened.
"The revelation about the student visa immigration fraud is a real concern because it comes on the back of a string of serious issues plaguing our export education industry," he said.
"The credibility of the sector has nosedived in recent years
with the Asian education market using descriptions like 'ghetto
education' or 'dumping ground' to describe New Zealand. This is not
the kind of reputation we want."