Nepalese Bipul Pokharel says he thought his prayers for a better future had been answered when he was offered an opportunity to work in New Zealand in a high-paying job that would lead to residency.
It would cost him $30,000, which he had to pay an agent in Nepal to secure a work visa and the job that would potentially pay $100,000 a year and make him a Kiwi.
But when the 27-year-old arrived, he was sent to a restaurant in east Auckland where he had to work 100 hours per week with no days off and was paid a minimum wage for just 35 of those hours.
Nepalese Honorary Consul to New Zealand Dinesh Khadka says Pokharel is one of hundreds of Nepalese nationals who have fallen for “lies and scams” paying between $25,000 to $30,000 for non-existent job offers, jobs in “slave labour conditions” or visas that allow them to come only as tourists.
The consulate has issued a warning on its Facebook page about the visa scams and Immigration NZ is urging victims to report them to their local law enforcement agencies.
INZ general manager Richard Owen confirmed there was an active investigation into the claims.
In the 2022/23 Financial Year, INZ offloaded 867 people from flights to New Zealand who were deemed ineligible for entry, of which 16 were Nepalese nationals.
“We encourage anyone who is a victim of a visa scam to report it to their local law enforcement agencies in their country of residence, or the country where the scam occurred,” Owen said.
“They can also copy information to NZ Crimestoppers however, if the scam occurred offshore, it is unlikely to be investigated by INZ. We also strongly encourage any New Zealand employer or entity affected by an immigration scam to report it to police or Crimestoppers.”
Owen said the agency could not make any further comments because of the ongoing investigation.
Khadka said scammers were targeting Nepalese seeking better lives overseas, many of whom already had their lives wrecked by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Covid really destroyed many sectors in Nepal, especially tourism and hospitality. Many are just so desperate to find a way to make a living and support their families, and see moving overseas for better opportunities as the best way to do that,” he said.
“They are told by the scammers that they can go to New Zealand on a visitor visa, find jobs in a dairy farm or a restaurant, and then they will get a work permit and after that residency. They just need to pay $25,000 to $30,000.
“People are being misled and cheated of big money, so because of that we want to warn them that this is all just a lie.”
In one case, Khadka said a person paid $27,000 for a visitor visa with money he had to borrow against his property and now had no way of paying back.
Another woman arrived in Queenstown to find the job she was promised wasn’t there and she also had nowhere to stay.
“The worst cases I have seen are people who have sold their properties and borrowed large sums of money to come here, but only to be stopped at the border and put on the next plane back,” Khadka said.
Khadka estimated at least 500 visa scam victims were in New Zealand.
“$20,000 to $30,000 is big money in our country. They need to borrow, sell their land, take money against their house, that sort of thing,” he said.
“When they can’t pay back, then their whole lives and maybe even their whole family’s lives may be destroyed.”
Pokharel said he went through a period of sleepless nights and depression when he first arrived, and wasn’t paid for months.
“I just did not know how I was to continue living, or tell my family that all the money they borrowed to send me here has just gone to a scammer,” he said.
After being helped by the consulate, Pokharel now has a work visa and is working as a food and beverage attendant at Sudima Auckland City Hotel.
Pokharel and his friends Sujit Gaha and Ghanashyan Gurung are three of many alleged victims who have been interviewed by INZ and are now assisting with the investigation.
INZ is advising prospective clients to apply for visas directly through its website rather than through an intermediary, and seek immigration advice only from licensed immigration advisers.
“Anybody seeking to work in New Zealand needs to be very careful that they are not being tricked out of their money and falsely offered jobs,” an INZ spokeswoman said.
“We advise people to protect themselves by checking with the companies involved, to ensure any offers are genuine before handing over any money.”
She said it was common practice for immigration advisers to charge a fee for their services.
“But this is entirely different to prospective employees paying employers to secure a job,” she said.
“People seeking to work in New Zealand should be aware that INZ will decline an application for a work visa where it considers that the employment was offered because of payment made by the applicant, or their agent to the employer in exchange for securing that offer of employment.”