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NZ Immigration Fraud Conference - Speech

Hon Damien O'Connor
04 August 2004

NZ Immigration Fraud Conference

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be here today. A special hello to Market Manager of Border and Investigations Lorraine Tomlinson, who is in charge of all our investigative staff through out the country.

I've been a somewhat promiscuous conference-goer of late – in the last month I've addressed the New Zealand pork industry, rooms full of farmers, polytech graduates, racing jockeys - you name it, I've bored it.

At many of these conferences the industry bodies in attendance, and the issues raised, were not new. Certainly the fields of work under discussion were decades old.

What makes this conference unique is that large-scale immigration fraud is a relatively new concept in New Zealand, as is the eight-strong investigative unit set up to address it.

Granted, immigration fraud in itself is not new, and it's certainly blighted New Zealand's immigration programme in the past, but only in the last few years has the need to conduct large-scale fraud investigations in New Zealand become apparent.

The fact is - fraud is a sorry, but explicable side effect of New Zealand's immigration programme. We live in a beautiful country; some would say a paradise. And may I add it's administered very well.

Subsequently, we are a very coveted country of residence and some people will often do whatever they can to come here and stay here.

Immigration Fraud prosecutions have jumped markedly in New Zealand in the past year. There were 181 charges laid as at the end of May, up 65 per cent on the previous year.

Convictions jumped 900 per cent in a year, from 16 to 143, though, in recognition of the good work done by immigration, this may well reflect improved vigilance and systems, as much as a hike in offending.

And we're not just talking petty fraud here. The seriousness of the offending is evidenced by cases such as the Chinese national who recently paid $50,000 for an arranged marriage and then provided New Zealand Immigration Service with false information about his relationship in an effort to gain residency.

This guy is now before the court facing multiple charges relating to numerous other arranged marriages. These marriages resulted in false information being supplied to NZIS that, conservatively, returned profits to the offender in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Other hopeful migrants have paid between $6,000 and $8,000 to obtain false documents and upwards of $100,000 for residency. Even more shocking are the results of marriage and job claim checks run by Risk Unit investigators.

Investigations found that between 70-80 per cent of job checks and 50 per cent of marriage checks referred to the Unit could not be substantiated.

We are most certainly not alone in being targeting on occasion by dishonest migrants; immigration fraud is on the up worldwide. Figures for last year put a worldwide profit figure of $US10 billion a year on immigration fraud, second only to narcotics and arms dealings. It's a burgeoning, and very profitable, industry.

But it's one I believe we are working successfully to combat in New Zealand. Both the government and the Service take immigration fraud very seriously and we're putting our money and resources where our mouths are.

An examination of the Immigration Service's fraud management and intelligence capabilities led to the commitment of significant new funding in last year's Budget to enhance these capabilities.

Funding for the management of immigration risks, including fraud, was increased by almost $20 million dollars and a whole lot more resources were allocated to aid the investigation and prosecution of fraud.

One main initiative was provision for four new Fraud Unit investigators, to enable more investigations, and a solicitor, to undertake the additional prosecutions generated.

The message we're sending is now clear – attempt to defraud the system, and we'll find you out and take action. As such, we're aiming to deter fraudsters even considering targeting New Zealand.

Enhancing intelligence capabilities also allows New Zealand's compliance and border security agencies, and other countries' immigration authorities, to liase and collaborate more in large-scale investigations.

The Fraud Unit now comprises eight investigators, whose job it is to investigate the following: organised migrant smuggling; forgery and refugee crimes; internal corruption; those who assist migrants who breach permit conditions, and media subjects. The Unit works with other agencies including the New Zealand police, the Department of Internal Affairs, and the Serious Fraud Office.

Another example of this government's intolerance of fraud is our new Skilled Migrant Category.

Any false or misleading information supplied in support of an expression of interest or residence application under the scheme, results in a decline.
Furthermore, they'll be no right of review or appeal in these cases, even if the false or misleading information is provided by a third party such as an agent or a consultant.

This year's Budget also boosts fraud management. It enhances the relationship between Customs and Immigration by replacing the existing link between their systems, and upgrading the storage and processing of security information.

Budget 2004 also includes funding to enhance immigration security by extending Advanced Passenger Processing to cover 100 per cent of arrivals by commercial airlines. Security for offshore branches has also increased.

I met last month with Auckland Airport immigration staff, who're working at the frontline of many of these initiatives. They were full of praise for the APP system, which they said worked well to pick up risk offshore, thereby significantly reducing unnecessary workload at this end.

I'd just like to say, for the record, that the conditions our staff are working under at that airport are deplorable and the fact that they are so good at their jobs in such conditions is a credit to each and every one of them.

Auckland International Airport is now a private company that is in the privileged position of controlling approximately 80 per cent of the people going in and out of this country.

If the public expect, as they do, Immigration and customs to protect our border from inappropriate or fraudulent visitors, then we need access to better facilities on site.

From a government perspective, and as mentioned, we are working to coordinate Customs and Immigration more efficiently, but we need facilities that match the increasing workload and expectations associated with border control.

A meeting is planned between the airport board and ministers in the near future, which I am hoping will rectify this situation.

A recent move likely to impact on the prevalence of immigration fraud is Cabinet's agreement in principle to regulate immigration agents. Announced in May, the proposal aims to provide greater protection to people using agents' services.

The proposal will require agents to be licensed and will provide minimum standards for the industry. An independent body will be set up, responsible for administering a code of conduct.

The Immigration Service will be able to refuse applications from unlicensed agents, and agents will be penalised for operating illegally.

Regulating the industry will mean people are able to have confidence in their hired agents, and they'll be proper complaint and redress procedures to deal with unsatisfactory service.

Officials are currently working on the details of the proposal; they'll report back to Cabinet towards the end of the year.

I've been asked to speak briefly about the Immigration Act, and whether there are any planned changes to it, particularly to the offences provisions.

A review of the Act, to be lead by the Immigration Service's Policy, Research and Development Group, is currently being scoped. Underlying the review is the principle that New Zealand has, subject to its international commitments, a sovereign right to choose its permanent and temporary migrants in order to meet its own needs.

In selecting migrants, New Zealand also seeks to treat individuals humanely and fairly. We must therefore have a fair and faster process that strikes a balance between our interests and the interests of those engaging with our immigration system.

Any changes will build on the purposes of the existing Act and amendments to it since 1987. Changes will aim to ensure, among other things, a higher level of compliance with immigration laws, and that those who don't comply are not advantaged over those who do.

Specific areas to be looked at in the review include:

· Possible technical and process enhancements to the immigration detention system
· Revamping of the current revocation, deportation and removal criteria and processes
· Review of the mechanisms for checking and imposing conditions on permits, and sanction for non-compliance.
· New provisions to enable greater information matching and sharing, leading to better immigration decisions and more successful investigations
· Review of security risk certificate provisions.

Input into the review will be sought from Market and Service Managers, and, as appropriate, frontline staff.

Immigration Minister Paul Swain aims for Cabinet to undertake policy decisions on the review by the end of the year, and legislation to be introduced early next year.

As Associate Minister of Immigration, and indeed, as a New Zealander, I have a zero tolerance to corruption and fraud in immigration. We enjoy a system of government and a public service in this country that is corruption –free. This must be upheld, in every area.

This government has put a huge amount of money and resource into fighting immigration fraud, and not without results. There will always be those who insist on breaking the rules, but we can be confident that New Zealand has robust systems in place to detect them.

Thank you to all those in the Service and the Fraud Unit for all your good work. Keep it up.

And now I'd like to hear from you – ideas and feedback on what you think is needed from government and areas you think can be improved.


ENDS

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