Immigration Fraud Conference - Lianne Dalziel Spch
Hon Lianne Dalziel
16 July 2003 Speech Notes
Immigration Fraud Conference
171 Queen Street
I wish to thank you for inviting me to participate in the Conference, but more importantly for showing the initiative in bringing together the key players within NZ and Australia, who are committed to minimising the adverse impacts of immigration through tackling immigration fraud.
One of the threats to public confidence in the NZ Immigration Programme is the fear that not all those who migrate here are honest in their dealings with the Immigration Service, and in turn are not fit and proper residents of this country. By turning your attention to immigration fraud in this way, you are helping to give confidence that the Immigration Service does treat these matters seriously, as do I.
That being said, it is important to recognise that the overwhelming majority of migrants to New Zealand are honest and are not in any way involved in immigration fraud.
Even our own home-grown, anti-immigration spokesperson, whose face and fingers currently adorn taxpayer funded billboards around the country, cannot find actual examples of residence fraud. With one solitary exception, every example he raised around the election campaign last year involved people on temporary entry permits, and every one of them has gone – including the exceptional case of Mr Singh.
Case after case that he raises in public, almost never referring them to me first, (which would suggest more interest in the headline than the outcome), almost always come to nothing.
A man selling NZ visas under a tree outside the embassy in New Delhi proves to be a case of unauthorised currency conversion, and the individual concerned is regularly moved on. But no substance to the visa-selling allegation, just a lot of huffing and puffing in Parliament, amounting to nothing.
The reason that I mention this is that the Immigration Service is very dependent on receiving information from those who know that fraud is occurring, and it is important that people come forward. But we need concrete evidence, not attention seeking behaviour, in order to combat immigration fraud.
The best way to encourage people with genuine information to come forward is the knowledge that the Immigration Service will act. As Minister of Immigration I have zero tolerance to corruption and fraud, and I know I speak on behalf of the government when I say that. New Zealand is well-known for its clean, green image, and this extends beyond our physical environment. We are rated internationally for having a corruption-free system of government and a public service to match. In some countries bribery is not only accepted, it is expected. So the message has to be reinforced in every location we do business, that no level of bribery or corruption is tolerated within any level of government, and neither do we tolerate any level of fraud or deception from those seeking entry to New Zealand.
I can assure you that the NZ Immigration Service reinforces with all staff, the Code of Conduct that emphasises the highest levels of integrity, going beyond actual conflicts of interest or relationships with clients or agents, to perceived conflicts of interest and indirect relationships.
There are individuals though who, through community pressure, temptation or greed, breach these rules, and they are investigated and they are dealt with. I know that some members of the public who have provided information about allegations of fraud or corruption feel frustrated at the time it can take, but often gaining sufficient evidence takes time, especially where the corrupt official or fraudster is outside New Zealand.
Some of you will recall an Assignment programme last year, where an advertisement in a Chinese newspaper, offering help with obtaining an IELTS Certificate for the purpose of enrolling at a University, was exposed as fraud. There was little in the advertisement that could have alerted us to the fraud, and in this case it was not immigration fraud but education fraud. That being said IELTS certificates are required for some residence applications, and therefore it was important that the matter was raised. There was no question that the case involved fraudulent activities that could impact on immigration, when I was shown a tape of a couple of young people being offered either a fake IELTS Certificate or a real certificate that had been obtained in their name by someone else. The latter was more expensive because it allegedly involved bribing the examiner.
This case was referred by my office to the police and two prosecutions have occurred as a result. One involved a forger who received a jail sentence, and the other involved someone who attempted to lodge an application with a false certificate. Other investigations relating to the scam are ongoing, and there may be further immigration and/or criminal charges laid as a result.
Assignment is to be congratulated for bringing this matter to the public’s attention, and I am hopeful that publicising the consequences will send a warning to those who think they can profit from cheating our immigration and, in this case, education rules. Those rules are there for good reason, and scams and activities that are designed to circumvent the rules – be they fraudulent, corrupt or even avoidance schemes – create adverse impacts that have consequences for New Zealand as a whole, not only as a result of the departure from the rules, but also from the perspective of New Zealand’s reputation as well.
As a note of warning to those who think they can advertise fraudulent activities through the Chinese language media, the NZIS is currently establishing a monitoring arrangement so that such activities are investigated on a regular and systematic basis.
The fact that the government takes the issue of immigration fraud very seriously can be seen in Budget 2003, which includes a significant increase in resources to combat fraud by enhancing the Service’s capabilities in this area. More than $19M additional funding over the next four years has been allocated to minimising the adverse impacts of immigration.
This is focussed on four areas of activity:
- Increasing the current immigration
intelligence gathering and analysis capacity;
- Providing more resources for the investigation and prosecution of immigration fraud;
- Increasing the number of removals, and
- Increasing staff capacity for detention purposes.
Working through each of these, it is clear that the Immigration Service will be well-placed to both reduce the risk of fraud occurring in the first place and to detect, investigate and prosecute fraud that occurs.
This increased commitment should first be placed in the context of other initiatives that have already or soon will minimise the impact of adverse consequences of immigration. The government has:
- Introduced domestic laws that
significantly increase penalties for people smuggling,
trafficking of persons and other related trans-national
organised crimes, which will act as a significant deterrent
to those activities.
As well as introducing new criminal penalties, Immigration Act penalties have been significantly increased as well. As an aside, it could well be these increased penalties that have contributed to a substantially reduced rate of refugee status claims. Less than 1,000 people claimed refugee status in the 2002/03 year, the lowest it has been since 1994/95;
- Approved the introduction of the Advance Passenger Processing system, which is being readied for its pilot run as we speak. The system is designed to allow NZ border agencies to identify risk before people actually board the plane;
- Increased New Zealand’s presence in transit countries, both from the perspective of interdiction activities and training of airline staff, who work at check-in points and on boarding gates, and from the perspective of linking into intelligence networks in the region;
- Successfully appealed a High Court decision that would have restricted the government’s ability to detain people entering the country, even though we did not know who they were, where they were from and why they were here; and
- Maintained a steadfast commitment to eliminating the backlog of refugee status claims so that the process is much quicker, without compromising the quality of the determination process. This acts as a deterrent to those who lodged manifestly unfounded claims, just to access our benefit system or to work for the two to three years it used to take before a first level hearing was conducted.
Turning to the Budget 2003 announcements:
Increasing the current immigration intelligence gathering and analysis capacity
Detecting trends and patterns of security threats and fraud depends on effective intelligence capabilities and systems.
To put it bluntly, the NZIS’s current capacity is insufficient to meet the increased sophistication of fraudulent activities, which of course range from the small-scale operator to the trans-national organised crime syndicate. The 2003 Budget provides funding for an additional four experienced staff and developing systems to support their activities.
The NZIS has excellent relations with its international counterparts with whom it collaborates closely. Sharing information allows the NZIS (and overseas partners) to establish patterns of offending and to respond jointly where necessary.
Providing more resources for the investigation and prosecution of immigration fraud
The Fraud Unit currently consists of four investigators. What the 2003 Budget means is that there is now funding for a further four investigators, to enable more investigations to occur, and a dedicated solicitor, to undertake the additional prosecutions that will be generated.
The message we are sending is that if you attempt to defraud the system, we will find you out, and any immigration status you have can be taken from you.
This government has also taken a bold step with the announcement of the new Skilled Migrant Category by significantly increasing the stakes on fraudulent, false or misleading applications. Any false or misleading information supplied in support of an expression of interest or application for residence will lead to a decline, from which there will be no right of review or appeal (even if that false or misleading information is provided by a third party including an agent or consultant). This will send a very strong message that applicants must take personal responsibility for the veracity of all the information they provide or have provided on their behalf. It will not be good enough to say they didn’t know.
Increasing the number of removals
Budget 2003 also contains funding for increasing removals of people who no longer have a current permit. Again this should be viewed in the context of earlier initiatives that have been designed to reduce the likelihood of non-compliance.
We have put in place new strict liability offences that will affect employers of people who do not have an appropriate permit to work in New Zealand. These laws are designed to prevent such employers saying ‘I didn’t know, because I didn’t ask’. Because the new rules only came into effect a couple of months ago, it is too early to tell how effective they are, but various employer groups have done an excellent job in educating their members about the risks of employing people without the legal status to do so, and I am sure that this has helped improve compliance already.
We also have problems when close-knit communities offer protection to overstayers. However, many community leaders have spoken out against such practices as part of their commitment to promote compliance, which they made at the time of the October 2000 Transitional Policy, which allowed around 6,000 people to either confirm or regularise their status.
That being said, the current level of overstaying remains unacceptably high, and this Budget funding will help to make a difference.
Our commitment to increasing the number of removals is accompanied by an equivalent commitment to reducing the need for removals to take place, by developing and enhancing the risk assessment tools that we use in approving visas and permits at the outset. The more information we can gather as we remove those who have not complied with their permits, the more we are aided in assessing future applicants, who may possess similar characteristics. Those characteristics may vary from country to country or from region to region within a given country.
By feeding this intelligence into the front-end, we improve decision-making at that level, which should lead to a significantly reduced risk of overstaying in the future. Of course, this has a longer lead-in time in terms of observable results, but that is the nature of the approach, which is preventative rather than remedial.
Increasing staff capacity for detention purposes
The increase in staff capacity for detention purposes will assist in managing those who are detained having claimed refugee status at the border, while their identity, and security risk are investigated. The effectiveness of the operational instruction has enabled cases to be prioritised, and again we are able to gather useful intelligence to minimise further the risk of NZ being targeted for such claims.
This package of initiatives means that the NZ Immigration Service is well-placed to play its role both within New Zealand and externally to combat both localised and international immigration fraud.
I congratulate the Conference organisers once more, and express my confidence in the NZ Immigration Service in meeting its obligation to minimise the adverse impacts of immigration, so that the full benefits of an active immigration programme can be realised for New Zealand as a whole.