Fears Immigration NZ's policy could see victims of visa fraud and exploitation punished

Lawyers and migrant rights advocates fear a new Immigration New Zealand policy could see victims of visa fraud and exploitation punished. 

Towards the end of this month, Immigration NZ will decline visa applications with false or misleading information, however, officers don't have to be satisfied that any issues with applications were intentional. 

More than 330 visa holders here and abroad have now been linked to a suspected exploitation case first reported by Newshub last month. 

However, a new Immigration NZ policy has some people worried migrants scammed by agents won't be able to speak out, like some victims were able to last month. 

"Immigration NZ is saying it's solely your responsibility for employing this agent, even though everybody knows that a lot of this fraud is agent-generated," Immigration Lawyer Alastair McClymont said. 

From September 25, immigration officers will use a section of the Act that allows them to decline visa applications if an applicant, or their agent, submits false or misleading information. 

The section does not require officers to be satisfied false or misleading information was provided intentionally.  

Any future applications would be considered using character instructions, which will be updated to clarify officers don't need to establish an intention to mislead on the applicant's part.  

"It does look like a band-aid solution," he said.  "I mean, they're not addressing the big issues of whether or not people should have the opportunity to expose fraudulent agents' involvement," McClymont added.  

However, Immigration NZ said surrounding circumstances will be considered before deciding on an application. 

"Our guidance to our staff does require them to take into consideration individual circumstances, including how the false or misleading information arose," Immigration NZ's Karen Bishop said. 

"We would certainly consider if a person had been a victim of fraud," she clarified. 

However, some people, like Migrant Workers Union's Anu Kaloti, remain unconvinced. 

She has been working on the front lines for more than a decade. 

"It does not leave any room for those agents, who are largely responsible for many issues over the years, it does not allow for those agents to be held accountable or responsible," Kaloti said. 

Immigration NZ's investigation into this case now involves 144 migrants across 10 properties, and an additional 190 offshore visa holders. 

But amongst all the bad, there's some good news too. 

Immigration NZ has said they will be moved to motels and receive $220 in living costs per week. 

It's a small consolation, after paying for tens of thousands of dollars for jobs that never eventuated.