Prime Minister John Key is ready to front questions in India about why Indian students face deportation from New Zealand.
He was scheduled to arrive in Mumbai early Tuesday and after a speech to the Bombay Stock Exchange later on Tuesday, he is due to sign an education agreement with the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Davendra Fadnavis.
The Indian education market is increasingly important to New Zealand tertiary institutions, with only China supplying more international students.
But there have also been problems involving fraud and exploitation of students - Key's attendance at the Diwali Festival in Auckland this month was interrupted by a group protesting the potential deportation of Indian students who were found to have used fraudulent immigration documentation.
And the office of Indian-born National list MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi has also been picketed.
Ahead of his trip, Key said the issue of visa fraud involving Indian students could well come up, but he was confident in New Zealand's "robust" system, adding that some of the students involved might be able to stay after the appeal process.
New Zealand's system relied on ensuring people abided by the rules, he said.
"If we don't, all we are doing is sending a message to agents in some of these countries, including in India, that if you just flout the rules then you can get away with it...that would undermine the integrity of what is a $3.5 billion business to New Zealand."
Immigration take tougher line
Immigration New Zealand began taking a tougher line on student visas in May out of concern about fraudulent activity.
International students have to prove they can financially support themselves in New Zealand, and some Indian-based agents had been using fraudulent bank statements in visa applications, assisted by corrupt bank managers.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) documents released to Labour showed the number of fraud cases had risen from 75 in April to 640 cases in August.
Professor Sekhar Bandyopadhyay of Victoria University of Wellington and head of the NZ India Research Institute, told the Herald that the recent controversies involving Indian students were unfortunate but waiting to happen.
"The Government is taking measures, but these measures should have been taken two years ago."
New Zealand took the easy route
Bandyopadhyay said Education New Zealand, the government agency for international education, and others had taken the easy route in attracting students, which was to target the lower-end of the market.
It took more investment and time building relationships to attract students to university-level courses, but longer-term that was what New Zealand needed to do, he said.
More than two-thirds of the 29,000 Indians studying in New Zealand are taking lower-level courses at private training establishments, institutes and polytechnics.
Many do so in an expectation that study will lead to work and eventually permanent residence.
There are signs the Government is keen to shift the balance to higher-level courses.
Included in the 35-strong business delegation travelling with Key are Vice-Chancellors from the University of Otago, Waikato University and deputy and pro Vice-Chancellors from the University of Auckland and University of Canterbury.
At Otago, 72 of about 100 international PhD students are from India.
INDIA STUDENTS BY NUMBERS
• International education is New Zealand's fifth-largest export earner, bringing in more than $1 billion in tuition fees a year.
• Since 2010, the number of students travelling from India to New Zealand has jumped from 12,000 to 29,000.
• That accounts for 23 per cent of international students in New Zealand, second only to China at 27 per cent (34,000 students).
• India's workforce is set to hit 500 million in the next few years.