With asylum applications from Indian nationals on the rise, Immigration New Zealand is keeping a close eye on fraudulent claims.
Two months ago, RNZ received a WhatsApp voice message from an Indian man that explained how to circumvent standard visa procedures.
"The best way to get into the New Zealand system is through their refugee claims," says the asylum seeker, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his identity.
"I came with a visitor visa and sought legal assistance to apply for refugee status. It's not a straightforward process, but it is a lengthy one," he says. "If the process takes longer than expected, I might have the opportunity to obtain a work visa and commence employment here."
The asylum seeker believes obtaining a work visa will allow him the time to earn money and financially support his family back in India.
He also says this pathway to staying in New Zealand is more cost-effective than investing substantial sums through agencies in India.
The asylum seeker says it's best for applicants in New Zealand to create a "fake story" that details their difficulties back home before requesting asylum. He claims to have fled political tension in his home state after finding himself in a life-threatening situation.
Since 2021, there has been a significant surge in applications for asylum from Indian nationals, with Immigration New Zealand acknowledging that it is aware of potential abuse.
In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, Immigration New Zealand received 89 asylum applications from Indian nationals. This year, however, the number has risen to 230 applications.
The upward trend in Indian asylum applications began in 2021 and has continued steadily over the next two years, with 104 and 172 applications submitted in those years.
Overall, 1504 applicants from all nationalities chose to enter New Zealand on a visitor visa before seeking refugee status in the 15 months leading up to 31 October.
Immigration New Zealand says its refugee system has been designed to protect a person who has been determined to possess a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country.
Fiona Whiteridge, general manager of refugee and migrant services at Immigration New Zealand, says the agency constantly on guard against potential abuse.
Whiteridge says the asylum claim determination process is robust, with each claim being assessed on its own merits and fraudulent claims promptly declined.
"INZ takes its refugee and protection obligations seriously," Whiteridge says.
In the past, Immigration New Zealand has taken legal action against those involved in abusing the asylum system.
In 2022, a woman implicated in fake refugee claims was found guilty of immigration fraud.
High rejection rates
Despite a significant increase in the number of applications from India, data provided by Immigration New Zealand shows a higher rejection rate for Indian nationals compared to other nationalities.
Over the past two financial years, the rejection rate has risen from 90 percent to 97 percent.
As of 31 October, fewer than five applications have been approved, with 452 remaining undecided.
The number of applications from China has also doubled. In 2020, 66 applicants sought asylum, and three years later, that number has risen to 122.
China's rejection rate has seen a slight increase, from 75 percent to 78 percent. As of 31 October, only six applicants have been successful, with 285 cases still awaiting a decision
New Zealand's system 'robust'
Deborah Manning, a refugee and immigration lawyer, says that fraudulent applications are not surprising.
"Any country that has the refugee convention and has a claims system is open to abuse," she says. "I can say that New Zealand has a very robust system."
She says that all cases are scrutinised thoroughly and that Immigration New Zealand monitors applicants who are granted refugee status.
"It isn't a done deal and it's a very risky thing to mislead immigration authorities in anyway," Manning says.
New Zealand accepts only a limited number of refugees each year.
"New Zealand receives about 500 a year, while the UK takes in approximately 81,000 annually," she says.
Manning believes the surge in applications is reasonable, considering the increased influx of migrants following the border reopening last year.
Recent migration figures show that New Zealand experienced a record net migration gain of 110,200 in the year ending 31 August.
Manning also stresses that seeking asylum is a fundamental right for anyone in need.
"New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention," she says, "So, anyone can seek asylum within New Zealand's borders, regardless of their visa status."