The Government yesterday hastily announced a deal to fast-track visitor visas for wealthy Chinese visitors after NZ First Leader Winston Peters revealed the plan and highlighted concerns about the risk of criminals using the visas to get into the country.
Immigration Minister Nathan Guy confirmed he had met China Southern Airlines in April this year.
"Yes, there has been a deal struck with Immigration New Zealand and China Southern that is going to allow high net worth individuals to come into New Zealand to ensure we continue to grow our tourism benefits."
Mr Guy said: "There will be some checks of course that will mean they still will need to get a visa, they still need to meet health and good character checks."
Mr Guy issued a statement saying the scheme would "encourage more high-value tourists to visit and stay here for longer, producing greater economic benefit for New Zealand".
The deal was struck after China Southern told Immigration NZ that its Gold and Silver Card holders were seeking to avoid "the necessity to answer questions relating to financial backing and employment history and to provide evidence of these" according to an internal Immigration NZ memo tabled by Mr Peters.
The NZ First Leader also produced another memo from the manager of the department's Intelligence, Risk & Integrity Division saying they were "annoyed" they hadn't been consulted on the deal until discussions were well advanced.
"China represents a huge set of risks and given the recent experience with students it seems we haven't learned any lessons," the manager said, referring to the investigation into 300 fraudulent student visas that were issued from Immigration NZ's Beijing office.
"One of the key risks is imported criminality, but because this is not a recognised adverse outcome for Immigration NZ it seems to be ignored in visa decision making."
The manager also said the deal "sets a dangerous precedent" and pointed out China Southern Airlines record in supplying correct passenger information was "very patchy".
But Mr Guy said officials had worked to address the concerns raised in the email to ensure that they were "covered off".
But Mr Peters told the Herald there was still concern within Immigration NZ about the scheme, which he understood was already operating. It was "clearly an abuse of both New Zealand border controls and the visitor visa system and it is being driven directly from the minister's office".
"It is disgraceful for the minister to confirm in Parliament today that he's prepared to weaken our border security to simply attract a few more tourists."