12 foreigners investigated by Immigration NZ over weapons of mass destruction fears

Last year, Newshub revealed a foreign student was under investigation over fears he was here to make weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

It can now be revealed that he wasn't alone.

Twelve foreigners who have applied to study or work here are under investigation by Immigration New Zealand.

They're from countries that have not signed Nuclear Proliferation Treaties or have access to WMDs - and at least one political commentator says we may have become a target of those countries.

Seven students have now been denied visas over concerns their study could contribute to a WMD programme.

"There is quite a bit of discrimination," says Professor Kevin Clements from Otago University.

"I think you'll find most of the students that are being discriminated against in this way are from the Middle East - from Pakistan, from India, from Afghanistan."

Paul Buchanan, 36th Parallel Assessments Director, disagrees.

"I would argue that it's an absolutely valid security concern."

All 12 people come from countries that have not signed special treaties which aim to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. Those countries are India, Israel, Pakistan and South Sudan.

But they could have also come from nations that have WMDs or WMD programmes.

Those nations include North Korea, China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. Iran is also suspected of having a WMD programme.

Mr Buchanan says New Zealand is seen is a target because up until recently, our security wasn't as robust as other countries.

"By coming here they get an equally good quality education, but they don't raise the attention of security authorities in the Northern Hemisphere."

But Professor Clements says most information to build WMDs can be found on the internet these days.

"If you were really interested in developing weapons of mass destruction, you wouldn't come to New Zealand."

Documents from the Immigration Profiling Branch give an insight into how assessments are made. Officials look at the applicant's:

  • PHD research proposal
  • Why New Zealand has been chosen for studies
  • A list of all addresses around the world where the applicant has lived
  • Their CV and other background information

But there's concern "citizenship profiling" is being undertaken.

"It's already beginning to discriminate on the grounds of citizenship and nationality, and I think that's starting to be very dangerous," says Professor Clements.

Immigration NZ says it considers a number of factors when making decisions about who to investigate, including the applicant's country of origin, their occupation and associations.

It also says a wide range of seemingly benign industrial goods, technology and expertise can assist WMD programmes.