Indian students facing deportation for immigration fraud targeted Indian-born National MP Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi in a noisy protest today.
About 60 students and supporters protested outside Bakshi's office in Papatoetoe over deportation notices for fraud which they say was committed by their education agents in India without the students' knowledge.
Bakshi was not there and told the Herald that none of the students had approached him.
Protest organiser Sunny Sehgal of the Migrant Workers Association said the students from four Auckland private education providers had appealed to Associate Immigration Minister Craig Foss to cancel their deportation orders.
"These students, who have completed six or eight months' study, got deportation letters from Immigration NZ alleging that they provided fraudulent documents at the time when they got their student visas," he said.
"These students had no idea about that because it was their agents who submitted the fraudulent documents. Some of them went to the agents with their documents but their agents said, 'Your visa is already granted, you don't need documents'."
The students, supported by Unite, E Tu and First Union, protested last weekoutside a public meeting in Lynfield addressed by another Indian-born National list MP Dr Parmjeet Parmar and Finance Minister Bill English.
They targeted Bakshi after he was reported to have said on a local Indian radio station that the students were like faulty fridges, saying, "If New Zealand gets fridges from China and they're faulty then they send them back".
Lawyer Alastair McClymont, who represents nine students facing deportation and others who are still in India, said the education agents in the Indian city of Hyderabad submitted fraudulent bank loan approval documents to prove that a total of 375 students could afford to pay their fees.
"The students say we have been defrauded because the agents have done this so they can earn commission from the NZ schools," he said.
"The agents still have their money. The schools still have their money. The students are being punished because the NZ Government can't do anything about the agents."
He said not all the students actually came to NZ before Immigration NZ discovered the scam and changed its rules so that visas are no longer granted unless students actually draw down their bank loans. Allowing the students to complete their courses would therefore not set a precedent.
"This is getting a bit of bad publicity in India. It doesn't show up this export education industry very well," he said.
He said education agents overseas should have to register with the NZ Immigration Advisers Authority which was set up to regulate overseas immigration agents in 2007.
"Education agents are exempt. The Government's argument is that if they are too strict on the agents, the same agents will send students to other countries and we miss out on their money," McClymont said.
"If it's protection for students, yes license them. If it's protection for the NZ education export industry, which is worth $3 billion, then don't. So it's money versus people."
Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said Immigration NZ, Education NZ and the Qualifications Authority were still working through each student's case.
"There are currently 39 Indian students potentially facing deportation, some for submitting fraudulent documentation to obtain a visa and others for committing crimes once in New Zealand," he said.
"International students are required to have a sufficient level of English language skills and sufficient money set aside when they come here so they can support themselves to proceed through their study and live reasonably.
"The rules are there to protect them from hardship and exploitation and ensure their period of study in New Zealand is successful and enjoyable. Around 125,000 international students study in New Zealand each year and nearly all follow the rules.
"The Government makes no apologies for taking action in circumstances where students are found to have obtained their student visa fraudulently.
"All student visa applicants have to make a declaration that all the information they have supplied is correct. While they may get agents to advise them, it is the responsibility of the student to ensure the information they are providing is accurate."
Bakshi told Radio NZ that he did not compare the students to "faulty fridges", but was referring to the training institutions where they studied.
He told the Herald: "We want everyone to be given a fair chance, but obviously the minister is the right person to answer all those questions."