Stakeholders have said the investigation blows the cover off an “open secret” of Indian agents falsifying bank statements and universities not verifying loan letters.
“This tempo of fraud is a significant threat to NZ’s immigration integrity, and reflects a number of wider issues with the Indian student market”
Three INZ factsheets dated February, March and April 2016 show that 15 bank managers have been found to have doctored financial documents that were then used by agents to prove students had the funds to study in New Zealand, thus securing their student visas.
A total of 57 agents in the region were found to have participated in this fraud, according to the factsheets, which were obtained under New Zealand’s Official Information Act by the opposition Labour party.
All eight of the top agencies (by volume) in Hyderabad were found to be engaged in this practice, including five out of the top ten agencies in India (ranked by INZ according to quantity and approval rates).
As of March, 56 people were “certainly or almost certainly” confirmed to have used this fraud to enter New Zealand, all of whom are currently in the country, according to the document. An additional 82 people were said to be “likely” to have entered NZ fraudulently.
Though the three factsheets only looked at agency activity in Hyderabad, the document issued in February states that there are “indications” fraud is happening nationwide.
“This tempo of fraud is a significant threat to NZ’s immigration integrity, and reflects a number of wider issues with the Indian student market,” the documents conclude.
In an email to management colleagues dated April 5, INZ’s immigration manager – risk, Justin Alves, described “the depth and breadth of penetration” of agent fraud uncovered in the investigation as “concerning”.
“So far there has been no agent we’ve looked at which hasn’t been using it, to some extent or another,” he said.
Nevertheless, Alves said in the email that it is unlikely that the rate of fraudulent activity taking place will make “a significant dent in the overall % student approval rating for MAO [Mumbai Area Office]”.
Alastair McClymont, a lawyer representing some of the students who were found to have submitted falsified documents, said: “Almost all of the fraud relates to fake bank loan documents.”
“The education agents perpetrating these scams need to be put out of business before they can ruin the lives of any more young people”
“My understanding is that Immigration NZ readily acknowledges the fraud is generated by unlicensed education agents in India and that Indian banks are complicit in the fraud,” he said.
McClymont’s clients deny any knowledge of the fraud that took place, he said, adding: “The Indian education agents took these shortcuts because many Indians find it difficult to prove where they sourced their money as they don’t all use banks.
“The education agents perpetrating these scams need to be put out of business before they can ruin the lives of any more young people.”
Until now, agent fraud related to education loan sanction letters has been an “open secret” and few universities verify loan disbursal letters, according to Ravi Lochan Singh, managing director of Global Reach in Hyderabad.
However, he challenged whether all of the 57 agencies identified by INZ are in fact knowingly conducting fraudulent activity.
“Only a handful of the agents [mentioned in the document] have multiple cases with fake loan documents,” he said.
“Where we find repeated instances of such fake disbursal letters, it is apparent that the agent is in the know and has knowingly provided the documents,” he said.
“If we assume that one-two cases of fraud document can slip in through any agency without the agency being involved, then the list of guilty agencies even in the Immigration NZ document will only be five-six and thus a large number of agencies, especially those working for reputed universities, are not involved in the scam.”