Migrants sold hope in phoney documents

By David Fisher, Jonathan Dow

In the situations vacant section of the Mandarin Pages, hope is for sale.

Degrees that usually take three years to obtain are being offered for around $12,000, with the seller claiming to be able to offer academic transcripts along with an authentic-looking degree.

A sham marriage with New Zealand residency as the ultimate goal will cost $50,000, and $13,000 will buy a bogus job offer to aid a residency application.

Many websites and some of New Zealand’s Asian newspapers carry these offers from merchants of hope, eager to sell migrants a chance at a new life.

A Herald on Sunday investigation discovered an advertisement in the Auckland newspaper Mandarin Pages where a Chinese man with New Zealand residency was advertising for a wife.

When contacted he confirmed he was looking for someone to marry and when asked what he wanted in return, the man, who later identified himself as James Li, replied: "$50,000."

He asked that $10,000 be paid upfront - and more after one year of marriage. A final $10,000 would be paid after two years, when the buyer would have permanent residency in New Zealand. The couple could then divorce.

When confronted, Mr Li initially denied all knowledge. He then offered a string of other explanations, including that he was arranging it for a friend, and finally that he was trying to get money for a woman in China so she could use it to marry someone in New Zealand.

Other advertisements in print and on the internet offer such things as university degrees - some "genuine" and others "fake".

A so-called genuine degree costs $12,000, which is paid in two installments. One of the sellers, a Mr Zhao, claimed to have someone inside the university system who could provide him with the paper to make degrees identical to those issued by the university.

He would also be able to register the buyer’s name with a New Zealand university. However, they would not be recorded as a graduate, he said.

"You choose the degree, major and results. You can’t check your result online, but the rest is real," he said.

"This is for you to use when you get back to China. Using it back home is 100 per cent no problems." Mr Zhao did have a problem explaining the deal to the Herald on Sunday when confronted. "No, no, no," he said, before running away.

In another advertisement on a Chinese website, a seller, who used the name David, also claimed to have contacts in Massey University and Canterbury University.

Again, they were able to provide an authentic-looking university degree that could be used to help someone obtain a working visa in New Zealand.

And for those working towards a genuine degree, help was also available with Chinese websites filled with offers to write assignments, for an average of around $250 for 2500 words.

And job offers, which would be used to gain work permits to stay in New Zealand, also cost big money - one person was demanding $10,000 for a job that would pay $20,000 a year.

National’s Asian affairs spokeswoman Pansy Wong said she had spent years complaining to officials about the scams, and still nothing had been done.

She said those placing the adverts, and those responding, knew what they were doing was wrong. But because the authorities had ignored the problem for so long it was now common practice.

"They are simply not showing any interest. How can you stop something if no one in authority has any interest?"

She said authorities believed the problem was too difficult to tackle, and unimportant because it was being carried out against Asian people. "They don’t see Asians as New Zealanders."

The scams are no surprise to Department of Labour immigration head Mary Anne Thompson.

"Yes, it’s pretty brazen and out there, and that’s a worry. There are these people who come to New Zealand and often get permanent residency and then offer these services to the community they came from. That’s the reality. I’m not going to say to you that it’s not happening, because that’s exactly what’s happening.

"We come across many cases every year where people have tried to provide forged documents for qualifications, marriages that are not genuine. When they are found, those people are sent back and have no chance of coming back to New Zealand. As soon as you’ve done something like this, you don’t get a second chance. You are off New Zealand’s list."

But in a department with a better language capacity than many - Ms Thompson estimates 30 languages are spoken through the Immigration Service - most of the investigation team don’t speak the languages of the communities they are investigating.

Immigration insiders also say they are hampered by weak legislation which offers few true investigative opportunities to root out fraud.

In fact, Ms Thompson says: "We can’t set people up. We can’t do what you did.

"You can’t present yourself as if you are trying to get one of these services. It’s a little more difficult than that."

In two of the three years since the fraud unit has been operating it has taken on 196 investigations.

Of the investigations that have led to prosecutions, there have been 79 convictions, including 20 for marriage fraud.

But there are another 232 cases being allocated now, and a further 600 pending investigations. With 13 investigators, it means each person has 64 cases, which works out to about four working days on each to investigate a case, develop it to prosecution strength and then bring it to court.

Though the investigators are able to draw on the 23 staff who verify documents and qualifications presented, it’s a heavy workload on a small group.

Ms Thompson believes it is as much about the skills available in the fraud unit as it is the number of people available.

"I will be looking at our resources to better understand how certain communities operate.

"It’s actually about us being savvy with our resources and connections with the others to get to this. Part of that might be, ‘do we have the right people to go in and do what you’ve done?’

"I’m sure we do, but do we do it often enough?"

- HERALD ON SUNDAY

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