Surge in fraudulent eVisas sparks Immigration New Zealand investigation

There's been a sharp rise in fraudulent eVisas being picked up by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) since it changed its system in July last year.

INZ stopped issuing physical visa labels inside passports, opting instead for what's called an eVisa - a  document which is easy to manipulate. 

As part of the process, eVisa applicants are emailed a letter with all the details of their visa.

But shortly after this change, officials noticed a surge in fake or doctored eVisa letters being picked up overseas. As a result, INZ says it's now considering changing the system. 

In the latest Because It Matters series, Newshub can also reveal officials are investigating a Kiwi employer over claims they've been altering details in the eVisa letters of migrant workers.

The new electronic visa system issued by INZ involves sending international students, tourists or workers A4 pieces of paper which detail the applicant's immigration details. The problem is they're easily forged.

"The system that we've got now, if it is shown to be too open to exploitation then it will be changed," says Peter Devoy, assistant general manager of compliance and border operations at INZ.

Figures released to Newshub show a big spike in fraud since the new system was introduced in July 2018.

Two fake visas were identified in 2016, and eight in 2017 - but that shot up to 52 last year. Another 33 were found in the seven months to July this year.

All were picked up at airports overseas, which Immigration New Zealand says shows its system is working.

A spokesperson told Newshub that the eVisa letter is a support document and the actual visa is stored electronically by Immigration New Zealand. So if anyone altered an eVisa letter, and it didn't match immigration's records, they'd be stopped from boarding their flight.

Twenty-five of the counterfeit visa letters belonged to Chinese applicants.

"[The] eVisas can be changed so easily and that's with dates - and it can be used quite fraudulently," says June Ranson, NZ Association for Migration and Investment chief executive.

It's not just an issue overseas. Newshub has discovered eVisa letters are being faked right here in an attempt to dupe unsuspecting foreign workers.

"This is an emerging problem and it could be widespread and it could actually affect the reputation of Immigration New Zealand's system if it is not addressed," says First Union general secretary Dennis Maga.

One worker, a concrete pump operator, says he and three of his colleagues were given altered visa details from their employer. A copy given to him by his employer shows a visa expiry date of September 2020.

Then, just recently, INZ sent him another version showing his work visa would actually expire this month.

"I figure out that this one is tampered and fake document," he says.

It's believed that altering the letter was an attempt by the employer to keep him working and not ask questions.

INZ confirmed: "The details on that document do not correspond with immigration records for that individual. We are investigating."

Maga describes it as a "deliberate" and "fraudulent" act by the employer.

The worker's colleague claims the same employer told him to keep working, even after his visa expired.

"Employer said you can still work because your visa is still processing so no need to worry," he told Newshub.

Devoy agrees the letters are easier to modify than the previously-required physical visa stamps.

"There are vulnerabilities there," he says.

But he warns anyone overseas trying to fake eVisa letters will get caught, as they can compare details on the letter to their own computer records before someone boards a flight.