Filipino workers caught up in scam could stay – Woodhouse

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse (file)
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse (file)

More than 1000 Filipino workers who may be in the country illegally could be allowed to stay in order to avoid potential damage to the dairy industry and Christchurch rebuild.

Yesterday it was revealed up to 1200 workers could be here illegally after providing false information on their visa applications through an immigration scam.

A Waikato-based Filipino woman has been arrested as the scam's suspected ringleader. She's facing three fraud-related charges.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse says while the scam was "pretty sophisticated", the infractions by the visa applicants were relatively minor.

"What we're talking about is gilding the lily on the CV basically, padding up the experience that these workers had in advance of their application to avoid a labour-market test that they probably would have passed anyway," Mr Woodhouse told the Paul Henry programme this morning.

The exact scale of the scam is still unknown, but Mr Woodhouse is confident Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is on top of it.

"It is widespread, but we've got to remember two things: we issue more than 600,000 visas every year and it does rely on the honesty of the applicants.

"What we know is that from the applications that were considered by the Manila Office of Immigration NZ over the last 12 months, about 70 percent of them could have gone through this particular process."

It took some time for the scam to be uncovered because INZ didn't initially realise a large portion of the workers were processing their application through the alleged ringleader.

"She was a bit of a ghost in the background of the process… but when patterns were emerging of anomalies on the visa applications, I think INZ did a very good job in identifying her as a common thread when she was identified.

"She was obviously practising without an immigration advisor's license as well as committing fraud, so it's pretty serious."

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters says INZ should be "mortified" the scam managed to function.

"This immigration scam highlights the appalling mismanagement of our visa application process," says Mr Peters.

"This individual has managed to gain commercial benefits from falsifying documentation, proving just how inept the department and minister of immigration are."

Mr Woodhouse says the farm workers caught up in the scam have likely been duped by the woman, but have also knowingly supplied incorrect information.

"I think they have certainly put in incorrect information and that is in breach of visa conditions, but I think they've been misled.

"I should add that they are making a tremendous contribution not only to the dairy sector, but also the rebuild of Canterbury and obviously we want to make sure that both of those industries are not negatively affected by this."

Mr Woodhouse says he will be working with INZ to form a set of instructions to be used to consider each individual case on its own merits.

"It is possible that those people will be able to stay despite their minor infractions," he says.

The woman allegedly behind the scam will appear in court next week and further charges could be laid.

Watch the video for the full interview with Michael Woodhouse.

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