9 Nov 2018

Student investigated over 'incredibly vague' WMD allegations

4:42 pm on 9 November 2018

A foreign student doing doctoral research at Auckland University into water quality is under investigation by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) who allege his studies could be used in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Auckland University

Auckland University Photo: RNZ

His studies into how to improve water quality in New Zealand were done in conjunction with a Crown research institute.

His lawyer, Alastair McClymont, told Morning Report his client is "the single best, most qualified migrant I've ever seen coming into this country. And we're about to lose him."

Mr McClymont said his client applied for a student visa from offshore a couple of years ago to do research. INZ did checks on his previous studies and employment and didn't find any problems.

Issues first arose for the student when he tried to renew his student visa. Mr McClymont said INZ began a nine month long investigation.

"They put to him some incredibly vague allegations, none of which have any substance whatsoever.

"The allegations show they haven't done a hell of a lot of research."

Mr McClymont said he and the student asked for information about the investigation but haven't yet received it.

The student applied for residency after getting an "incredibly good job offer" but has been unable to work or provide for his family who also live in New Zealand.

"He's about to pack up and go to a country that's more welcoming," Mr McClymont said.

Mr McClymont said his client was ecologically minded and came to New Zealand because of it's "clean, green" reputation.

"He's highly in demand for his skills. He's been with his employer for four or five months doing the exact same work as his field of study."

"They don't really know what they're accusing him of... INZ talked about students from countries with bad human rights records but they don't seem to be investigating any students from Saudi Arabia and China. That's now changed to weapons of mass destruction.

"[INZ] said it was countries that haven't signed the nuclear non-proliferation arms treaty, but the country my client is from signed it in 1968.

'It doesn't make any sense."

Mr McClymont said INZ raised concerns over the fact the student's PhD proposal had changed after arriving in New Zealand.

"What they don't seem to understand is that the Univeristy proposed the change because they were working with a Crown research institute.

"None of this was our clients idea, this was proposed by the Auckland University, it's quite absurd.

"They're claiming, somehow, that he has some nefarious plan to change to change his proposal so that he can make weapons of mass destruction."

Mr McClymont said his client can't afford to feed his family or pay rent and has been relying on the community and a local charity to get by while the investigation is ongoing.

INZ general manager Peter Elms defended the investigation, saying New Zealand is a signatory to a number of international agreements that prohibit us from assisting in any way in the development of weapons of mass destruction.

"We take that role seriously, we play our part," he said.

"We assess each case on its merits and in the particular circumstances of this case, it warrants further scrutiny."

Mr Elms said the investigation will take "as long as it needs to take."

While studying water quality might appear benign, Mr Elms said some of the courses have "dual-use purposes" and his studies fell into that category.

"The trigger point in this case may well have been a change in that courses study," Mr Elms said.

Mr Elms said it doesn't matter that the change was proposed by the University.

"What's critical here is exactly what the course of study is that the individual is doing and whether that has any applicability to weapons programmes."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs