Coverage of INZ’s investigation into student visa fraud reflects immigration at the heart of the political debate
“The media coverage here reflects an international trend that places immigration at the heart of the political debate”
An investigation by Immigration New Zealand into financial document fraud among some agents and bank managers in India has created bad press around the recruitment of Indian students via agents – but Brett Berquist, director international at the University of Auckland, offers his take on quality protections across the country;s universities and how the investigation fits into a wider debate about immigration and the need for international talent.
New Zealand is proactively developing its international education market and has seen some significant growth recently in the private training establishment sector (PTE), with a recent government announcement showing 13% growth overall for the IE sector in 2015. This is driven primarily by the PTE sector and growth from India.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s universities aim for slow and sustained growth,grow by 4% to reach 26k in 2015. Currently India is just 5% of our international enrolments in the tertiary sector. It is a complex market with a significant portion of it driven by migration goals. India is forecast to grow by 30 million people of tertiary education age over the next decade and the university sector is working to build visibility for sustained growth.
The quality of applications is very important to us, and universities vet their international recruitment agents and monitor their performance. At the University of Auckland, we have reviewed our practice twice in the last 14 months. First in our own review of the anti-corruption report from New South Wales, and more recently, through our business risk analysis unit, we invited PwC to undertake an audit of our practice of working with international agents.
I was an early supporter of the AIRC in the US when I was working in Michigan. That body has moved the field forward significantly in the US, where the use of recruitment agents was not widespread previously. New Zealand has a long practice of using agents successfully, with good results in the tertiary area, the one I know best.
“With only eight universities, we are able to come together as a sector, and work in close collaboration with government to shape policy. IE advocacy here brings results”
Working in the IE sector in New Zealand, after a dozen years in Europe and a dozen in the States, is an exciting experience for me. With only eight universities, we are able to come together as a sector, and work in close collaboration with government to shape policy. IE advocacy here brings results.
Currently, we are working closely with local and national government to increase our support to international students. I am impressed by the ability of the sector to come together quickly over issues such as these and to identify improvements to move forward. We have hosted several such meetings at the University of Auckland and are pleased by the news that the Ministry of Education is working towards a new strategy for international student support.
The recent story on problems in the system – where Immigration New Zealand uncovered falsified financial documents in student applications – had been in gestation here for some time. As part of the national election cycle coming next year, a healthy debate is afoot regarding the country’s immigration goals and our capacity to support these.
New Zealand is a nation of immigrants — nearly one in two workers in the Auckland region was born overseas. Dame Susan Devoy, Human Rights Commissioner, explained in a speech to the sector last week, at the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) Auckland International Education Conference, that this transformation had taken place in one generation, making New Zealand one of the most diverse countries in the world. She called on us to work together to ensure we are supporting the international students we welcome here, to ensure success in all areas of their lives: “Our reputation as one of the most peaceful and diverse countries on earth depends on all of us doing our part.” This is the attitude we at the University of Auckland share with our colleagues across the sector, reviewing our practices and planning for expansion of services, as we work towards the export education targets set with government.
I am also impressed at how seriously Immigration New Zealand (INZ) works in this area. In just one year here, I have met with INZ officials over half a dozen times. A key official regularly joins our Universities New Zealand stakeholder meetings to discuss policy and areas for improvement. This person even responds to text messages after hours. There is an extraordinary level of collaboration here.
“The recent identification of fraudulent bank documents is something I have seen repeatedly throughout my 28 years in the sector. While New Zealand will take steps to fix the problems that have been identified, the field will encounter this problem again”
New Zealand has very conservative financial evidentiary requirements for student visas. A visa is granted only after the student shows a receipt of payment for that period of study. The student has to pay for their studies before the visa interview. In most cases, the visa is granted for the duration of the pre-payment. Consequently, there is already a very strong filtering mechanism in place for New Zealand.
The recent identification of fraudulent bank documents is something I have seen repeatedly throughout my 28 years in the sector. While New Zealand will take steps to fix the problems that have been identified, the field will encounter this problem again as we see the international education market continue to grow as forecast globally.
The media coverage here reflects an international trend that places immigration at the heart of the political debate, as evidenced in the US presidential race, and more recently in the clear divisions on the vote for the UK to exit the EU. In New Zealand, this is triggering a necessary debate that we welcome as a condition to further progress towards the 2025 export education targets set by government. International education is a key part of the country’s talent acquisition strategy, with one in six international students obtaining permanent residency within five years.
Attracting and retaining international talent helps drive our economy and our government has prioritised this. Even though we are a nation of immigrants firmly aware of how connected the world’s economies are, we also need to plan for the expansion of services, housing, and infrastructure, and the conditions necessary to make sure we welcome international students to our shores and support their success.