By Beck Vass
Seven illegal immigrants have been held in Tauranga police cells this week waiting to be flown home amid a seasonal influx of illegal immigrants believed to be working in the kiwifruit industry.
Four were flown out of the country yesterday, while the other three are likely to leave on Monday.
Senior Sergeant Ross Bielby said the men were in police custody as part of a crackdown by Department of Immigration officials who had been working in the Western Bay of Plenty.
Those in custody have not been charged but are held in police cells until they can be taken out of New Zealand. "We hold them until the Immigration Department basically arranges their deportation.
"It depends whether their passports and travel documents are available, or if they haven't got those they could be held for substantially longer. What happens is they go to court and they normally get remanded in custody for seven days.
"That continues until such time as Immigration can arrange travel documents."
Although police dealt with illegal immigrants year-round, they had come to expect them at this time of year, he said.
"It's something that crops up every year."
Police were not running a specific operation targeting the immigrants but had assisted the department in finding them at homes in the Bay.
Mr Bielby would not say where the seven were found.
Other illegal immigrants have also been found through traffic stops as they drove to or from orchards. Inspector Karl Wright-St Clair said there was usually an influx of illegal immigrants held in the Tauranga cells in May and June.
Police resources were not stretched because of it.
"Every year at this time we have this issue so we know it's coming, we can plan for it."
The Department of Labour's group manager for border security, Api Fiso, confirmed four Chinese nationals, two Brazilians and one Czech had been held by Tauranga police this week.
"They were found at private addresses during a standard compliance visit to the region by the department," Mr Fiso said.
Who paid for removing illegal immigrants depended on each situation.
"In cases where the person has no funds the department covers the cost of removal.
In some instances, the department recovers this cost once the person is back in their home country."
If a person entered New Zealand on a work permit sponsored by an employer, the employer could be liable for removal costs, he said.
New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers president John Allen said he had never heard of a grower being charged for removing an illegal immigrant from New Zealand.
"The illegals that are here, they're either silly and they haven't gone and got a work permit - which has been very successful in terms of the people who have applied for it - or they were illegal before the start of the season."
With the picking season nearing its end, he expected the industry's workforce to drop by about a third at the end of this week and by half at the end of the month.
There was nothing to stop immigrants whose working visas had expired from reapplying to work here again, he said.