Ananish Chaudhuri: Immigration should have checked Indian students' visas

• Ananish Chaudhuri is professor of experimental economics and head of the department of economics at the University of Auckland. The views expressed are entirely his own.

I am stunned at the New Zealand Government's decision to deport a large number of Indian students.

While the Government may have legal grounds to do so - and even that may be subject to judicial interpretation - the Government's stance violates principles of natural justice.

These students were granted valid visas to come to New Zealand to study; they have paid substantial amounts of money in fees.

Yet, now that the Government believes that they provided false information on their visa applications they must go; even though the immigration authorities had ample time to adjudicate their cases and could have stopped them from coming in the first place.

In being removed, the students will have to forfeit all their tuition fees, not get the qualification they came for and will have to bear the cost of their flights back home.

Many of them used up all their savings to get here and have little to go back to. One woman has a 2-year old daughter.

I listened to an interview that the then Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce gave to John Campbell late last year. In the interview the minister made three points that are worth examining more closely.

First, he said that this was about protecting the "integrity" of the system. This, from a Government that clearly has no compunctions about selling New Zealand citizenship to foreign billionaires. Enough said.

Second, it seems to me that in order to deport these students, the Government needs to document at least two things: first, that they knowingly lied on their visa applications and if not, then second, they were clearly aware that the education agents they had hired were providing fraudulent information. The evidence suggests that neither is true.

At the very least, the students were unaware that their agents were providing false information on their behalf.

In his interview, even Minister Joyce seemed to understand this. Yet, his position was that the students need to take responsibility for information being provided on their behalf, even if they were not aware of any falsehoods, and that this justified their removal.

How does this work? The students, who may well be unaware of any malfeasance, are still responsible and guilty; yet the immigration authorities who had access to all the information, had ample time to examine their veracity and still went ahead and granted visa to these students are blameless?

Welcome to the Kafkaesque world of Minister Joyce.

This brings me to the third point made by the minister. He repeatedly referred to the Indian market as "challenging". But if the market is that challenging, then why do we need to operate in that market?

Why not stringently scrutinise every student who applies via an educational agent? These are people coming for tertiary degrees. Surely, they are qualified to fill out their own forms?

Every year thousands of people go to study abroad from India without engaging the services of an agent.

Taking this one step further, why is there a complete lack of oversight or regulation of the so-called private education providers, who are equally complicit in this fiasco?

It is widely known that educational institutions in New Zealand and other destination countries (such as Australia, Canada, UK and US) routinely use agents to recruit students. How can it be acceptable to blame the victims while giving a free-pass to the agents and the institutions?

Maybe because education is now a $3 billion industry and poised to grow to $5b by 2025. If the steady inflow of students from China and India dried up, that would send shudders not only through the tertiary education system but the economy as a whole.

The Government wants to have it both ways. It wants the inflow of money from the burgeoning middle classes in China and India and is willing to allow a system rife with abuse to continue.

Yet, it refuses to take responsibility for its role in enabling those abuses in the first place or safeguard the rights of those who have fallen victims to this system.

These students received valid visas to come to New Zealand; possibly, due to mistakes by immigration officials. The Government, rather than trying to remedy its own error, needs to focus on how to prevent such abuses.

Deporting the students is cruel and unjust. It is also contrary to the tenets of fairness and justice Kiwis are known for.

- NZ Herald

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