Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Religion used to dupe overstayers

Melino Maka of the Tongan Advisory Council. Photo / NZ Herald
Melino Maka of the Tongan Advisory Council. Photo / NZ Herald

Immigration scammers are using a doorstep religious approach to sell fake residency visas to overstayers in South Auckland.

They claim the visas are issued under the authority of the Sovereign Maori Government of Aotearoa and give holders the right to remain in New Zealand indefinitely.

One overstayer from Tonga, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he paid $290 for the certificate. He was told to collect the document from the Immigration Minister of the Maori Government at the Saturday market in Mangere.

Immigration NZ has warned Tongans to be wary of the scam.

"A man and a woman, who came knocking on our door, said they wanted to share the Bible, so we let them in," said the overstayer, who lives in Mangere Bridge. "They asked about our immigration status and we shared with them honestly because we regarded them as our brother and sister in Christ."

The family were told that they could legitimise their stay if they each gave a $290 koha to the Sovereign Maori Government.

"I thought these people are God's answer to our prayers, so I readily gave them the $290 for my certificate and told them I will pay for my wife and children when I can borrow enough money," the Tongan man said.

He believes the scammers use contact lists, obtained from Tongan churches in South Auckland, to target their victims.

Melino Maka, chairman of the Tongan Advisory Council, said the "trusting nature" of Tongans made them an easy target.

He said there was talk that 300 "unused visas" belonging to applicants from Tonga who had not travelled to New Zealand would be issued to a lucky group by "someone connected to the minister".

He plans to meet some Tongan church leaders this weekend to address these scams. It is estimated that there are about 3000 Tongans unlawfully in New Zealand.

Immigration NZ general manager Steve Stuart said the service had been alerted to the new visa scam.

Three weeks ago, Gerard Otimi was jailed after taking money from overstayers and issuing them with a certificate allowing them to be part of his hapu to remain in the country.

- NZ Herald

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