A secret tightening up of visa criteria is under way and and Indian applicants are feeling targeted, according to an immigration advisers' group.
Based on official statistics from July to October this year, the annual increase in work visa refusals is 42 percent across all nationalities and 80 percent for Indian nationals.
But Immigration New Zealand (INZ), citing earlier full-year figures, disputes that and says there has been no change in the way it assesses visa applications.
Association of Migration and Investment policy director Richard Small said a sharp increase in rejections of certain work visas had also led to a large increase in appeals.
Mr Small, a Wellington immigration lawyer, said some communities were sensing discrimination.
"Official information requests have shown a dramatic increase in certain groups being refused visas." he said. "There's been a tightening in approach that has not been reflected in official instructions.
"Indian requesters for visas who do not have current visas - they're being refused at record levels. For some groups of migrants it is a very desperate landscape."
In a statement, INZ area manager Marcelle Foley, said there had been no change to its assessments.
"Every application is robustly assessed against the relevant immigration instructions.
"It is not correct to state that that there has been a sharp fall in the number of post-study work visas or in work visa approvals for Indian nationals.
"The number of post-study work visa applications for Indian nationals has grown in each of the last three financial years as it has for all nationalities. The decline rate for last year was just over 5 percent - lower than the figure for 2012/13 and 2013/14."
Ms Foley said there had been an increase in visa volumes in the past two years and a corresponding rise in section 61 requests - appeals for those who have been turned down for a visa.
"Between 1 November 2015 and 31 October 2016 there were 649 section 61 requests from Indian nationals with 357 granted work visas.
"Between 1 November 2016 and 31 October this year there were 1174 section 61 requests from Indian nationals with 324 granted work visas."
But Mr Small said there was a wide gap between what INZ was saying and what immigrants and their advisers were seeing.
He described some of the methods used to cut down on unwanted applications as "under the table" such as unattainable timeframes for information requests, pedantic queries and changes to how INZ assesses sustainability of employment.
He said the number of rejections had increased, particularly in the lead-up to and after the election, and especially in graduate work visas.
The association drew up figures under the Official Information Act showing approvals under the section 61 appeals also fell during the last year. Figures show in the three months to September, 900 of the 3000 requests under section 61 were from Indian nationals.