Migrants who will soon become residents under a government fast-tracked visa process are being offered more than $30,000 to enter bogus marriages, according to an immigration adviser.
Two people who contacted him wanted to know how to leave their real partner off their application, so that they could sponsor someone else from overseas.
More than 45,000 people have applied for the one-off residence visa since the first phase began in December, and almost half have already become residents.
An estimated 165,000 will apply for residence by the end of the year, with most of those eligible from last week.
The immigration adviser, who asked not to be named, feared the two cases who approached him could be the tip of the iceberg, and said the lack of an English language test in the visa’s criteria may leave migrants open to exploitation.
A South Island cook contacted him before Christmas, he said.
“I asked him why do you not want your wife to be included in the application and actually conceal the fact that you’re married and he said like, ‘I’ve got an offer from someone back home that can potentially pay me money to get someone over here. It’s about $35,000 or $40,000’.”
A woman later also called him with a similar story, saying she had been offered about $30,000.
“She has also been offered some money to potentially get married later on and get her ‘husband’ into New Zealand as a resident. It was a bit shocking for me that at this nascent stage, already stuff like this is being like planned on. I don’t know how big it goes, I just feel that there could be some issues coming up.”
Both people had been approached with the offers by an agent or intermediary. While ‘paper marriages’ were not a new phenomena, having so many new residents at one time might be bringing fraud to the fore, the immigration adviser said.
The criteria and fast processing of the visas could also aggravate the problem, he said.
“It’s nothing new. In India, you have classified advertisements especially for women and men who are studying or living abroad with residency.
“But the fact is we have a unique situation where a large number of potential number of primary skilled workers are getting residency. So it will be very light touch sort of investigations happening. From what we understand, a lot of applications would be just automated to a large extent.”
With no English language tests for the one-off visa, and in many cases having been in New Zealand for not long, migrants may not understand the legal ramifications of their actions, he said.
“They should meet the residence English language requirements, because otherwise you have a large cohort, a significant number of people who would be granted permanent residence to New Zealand eventually without knowing sufficient English to make informed decisions about what is right or wrong.
“If somebody is here for a while, they understand how this country works, how the systems here work. It’s very different compared to someone who’s lived here for a short period of time, doesn’t know the language, doesn’t know the culture. It’s easy for people like them to be enticed by wrong elements.”
Immigration New Zealand responds
In a statement, Immigration New Zealand said it was not aware of the cases, and providing false and misleading information to an immigration officer was a criminal offence.
“Allegations of fraudulent relationships entered into for immigration purposes (for money or otherwise) will be taken seriously,” said its general manager of border and visa operations, Nicola Hogg.
“We consider residence applications where a partner is included very carefully and an immigration officer needs to be satisfied that the applicant meets immigration instructions. For residence applications, the couple must be able to demonstrate that they have been living together for a minimum of 12 months.
“Marriage alone is not sufficient evidence for the purposes of the immigration instructions and applicants are required to provide a range of documentation to demonstrate their relationship meets requirements.
“During the assessment of a partnership application, we may decide to interview the applicant and partner or even conduct a visit to the couple to help determine that the relationship is credible, and genuine and stable.
“If the applicant has been living apart from their partner for any significant period of time during their relationship, they must also provide evidence of the length of any periods of separation, the reasons for them, and how their relationship was maintained during those periods.”
As for the immigration adviser’s two cases – he told them he could not represent them and warned them about the possible repercussions. But he is concerned that they and others are likely to forge ahead with their plans.
“A significant, large number of people are not so aware of the country, the system, the culture, and actually not even aware of how dangerous getting involved in something like this is,” he said.
“I just told them what the potential consequences could be down the line, I explained to them it could come out – if you go out, have a drink and joke about it or just tell someone. If you use some kind of fraudulent way or if you conceal something, it could come back to you much later in life as well.”