24 Jul 2012

Immigration minister denies corruption allegations

9:27 pm on 24 July 2012

Minister of Immigration Nathan Guy has denied allegations of corruption within Immigration New Zealand and he says visas for foreign fishing crews have been audited correctly.

The comments follow an anonymous letter sent to a Labour MP claiming corrupt practices and a lack of audits for hundreds of visas.

In the letter, someone claiming to be a senior immigration officer says they are tired of institutionalised corruption within Immigration New Zealand.

But Immigration Minister Nathan Guy denies any suggestion of widespread corruption although he says he has yet to read the letter.

The letter claims that Immigration New Zealand has issued more than 500 visas to fishing companies in the last two years.

But it says no audits have taken place to ensure that minimum wage and labour law requirements are met.

Last year the crew of the Oyang 75 walked off the fishing vessel, saying they had worked 40-hour shifts and been abused by officers.

Labour MP Darian Fenton, to whom the letter was sent, says audits are there to protect foreign crews.

The Minister denies that fishing crews have not been dealt with properly and points to the Government's recent announcement that all foreign ships must be reflagged as New Zealand vessels - effectively placing them under New Zealand law - within four years

Meanwhile Immigration New Zealand has defended its system for processing visa applications for foreign fishing crews.

And says applications are only approved after appropriate checks are carried out.

A department spokesperson, Steve Stuart, says audits were initially done by a team at the Christchurch branch.

But he says, after concerns were raised about the treatment of foreign crews last year, the then Department of Labour employed external providers who began two audits in May.

Palmerston North allegation

Immigration New Zealand says an allegation its Palmerston North facility is simply rubber-stamping visa applications is incorrect.

The allegation is one of several criticisms included in the anonymous letter sent to Ms Fenton.

The department says the Palmerston North facility declined 1,739 visa applications in the last financial year, including 1,143 from full fee-paying students.

It says all applications are subject to appropriate checks.