Inside Immigration New Zealand

From The Detail, 5:00 am on 19 February 2020
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway Photo: RNZ / Yvette McCullough

Immigration New Zealand's Henderson office is like any other, with rows of workers at their computers. But in this workplace the lives of tens of thousands of people are at stake.

Today The Detail goes inside the office to follow the visa process and gets a glimpse of the types of fraud it is grappling with, from fake passports to "diploma mills" issuing fake qualifications.

Getting this kind of access to an immigration office is unusual for a journalist It took several months to arrange with the help of RNZ's immigration reporter Gill Bonnett, and we had to sign a confidentiality deed to ensure we did not identify any applicants.

Immigration New Zealand has been accused of destroying the dreams of migrant workers, students, family members because it often takes several months -  and sometimes more than a year - to process visas.  

Last year more than a million people applied for visas, an unprecedented number. At the same time, Immigration New Zealand was restructuring and as part of the shakeup the Henderson office was slated for closure.

However, instead of shutting down, Henderson has been turned into an overflow office to cope with the increased demand. It has doubled in size to 90 workers with plans to add at least 50 more.  

It processes tens of thousands of applications every year, and the growing number of fraudulent applications can cause long delays.

"We do have a large number of applications that are really genuine applicants who want to come here and study, visit, work and so on," says Jeannie Melville, acting general manager for border and visa operations at INZ.

"There are a proportion of applications that do have risk factors, whether that's for fraud or for migrant exploitation. Certainly it does take us longer to look through those documents and make sure that we do the appropriate verification, depending on what type of visa it is or what type of document."

INZ has an "expanded risk and verification network" around the world which has helped detect fraud and look at patterns of fraud that are emerging.

Melville shows The Detail how it stopped one former resident from returning to the country after she submitted a fake passport. High risk applications such as this could take "weeks or months" to get it through an identity checker but she says potentially fraudulent applications are one of the factors causing long visa delays.

We also talk to Newsroom’s Dileepa Fonseka about political changes this election year that stand to make visa processing an even more heartbreaking process.