More Indian student visas have been declined than approved in the past 10 months, as Immigration New Zealand battles widespread fraud.
In figures revealed to the Herald, 10,863 of the 20,887 applications the agency received from applicants in India were declined. Among the declined applications, 9190 had been lodged by unlicensed education advisers, student agents and lawyers who are exempt from licensing.
Munish Sekhri, vice-president of Licensed Immigration Advisers NZ, an India-based group representing licensed agents, said fraud in India was widespread and it would be an "uphill challenge" for Immigration to "win the war".
"I would say one in three applicants from Punjab would have used some form of deception and up to 80 per cent for those from Hyderabad," said Mr Sekhri. "The unlicensed agents they use do anything from arranging fake documents, providing fraudulent funding and even an imposter service."
For about $1000, agents would set up fake emails and phone numbers to impersonate clients to take verification calls from Immigration.
An advertisement in an Indian newspaper from a company called Imperial Education reads: "Study in New Zealand ... even if you don't have funds to show, we can help you get visa."
"It is true that many, many PTEs [private training establishments] and some ITPs [institutes of technology and polytechnics] have actively promoted this fraud," said Mr Sekhri. "These providers prefer working with unlicensed agents in India, who drive large numbers of students to NZ, who have no accountability to anyone."
He said mandatory licensing of student-finding agents was urgently needed to rid the industry of "cowboys".
Over the past two years, Immigration's Mumbai office - which processes all student visas from Indian nationals - uncovered 265 education agents who submitted applications with fraudulent information. It also found 338 applicants had used imposters, 340 with fraudulent funds and 39 with forged documents. Since 2010, 1248 Indian nationals were either deported or left voluntarily, 74 of them in the year to April.
Immigration NZ area manager Michael Carley said the agency and the Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) were aware of these fraudulent methods.
"To help address this, the IAA and INZ ran a campaign in India earlier this year encouraging people to use a New Zealand licensed adviser if they were seeking assistance to come."
The campaign would continue in New Zealand over the next three months. The exemption of offshore student advisers from licensing was also being reviewed.
India is New Zealand's second-largest and fastest-growing source country for international students. However, student visa approvals for Indians - at 49 per cent - is the lowest among the main international student markets.
Indian international students (10 months to April)
20,887 - applied for student visas
10,863 - declined
9190 - declined applications were by unlicensed agents and advisers
source: Immigration New Zealand