WELLINGTON, July 11 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand immigration officials are seeking 231 people on student visas after uncovering evidence of widespread fraud during a random check on visa applications at its Beijing office.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) head of immigration Steve Stuart said Wednesday the fraud targeted student visas and consisted predominantly of fake qualifications and falsified bank statements.
"Our investigations are continuing, but at this stage it appears that two agents in China have facilitated these fraudulent applications," Stuart said in a statement.
He said 279 applications have been confirmed to contain some form of fraud, and 231 people who fraudulently obtained visas were presently in New Zealand, including 60 whose visas had expired.
The other 48 people had either already left New Zealand or not yet arrived and they would be prevented from doing so, Stuart said.
The 171 holders of valid visas, who were implicated in the fraud, could be liable for deportation depending on their individual circumstances and would be barred from re-entering New Zealand for five years.
A total of 20 education providers all in the Auckland area had been identified as having enrolled people implicated in the fraud.
"There is no evidence that any of the education providers have been involved in the fraud," Stuart said.
Acting Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson and Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Steven Joyce welcomed the investigation by Immigration New Zealand.
"This fraud was uncovered in a regular audit by Immigration New Zealand. It's pleasing to see this kind of illegal activity detected and acted on quickly," Wilkinson said in a statement.
Joyce said the fraud, though significant, represented a very small percentage of the 25,000 applications received from Chinese students each year.
"We pride ourselves on the high quality of our international education, and this is a very important industry for New Zealand," Joyce said in the statement.
The opposition New Zealand First party called on the government to launch an investigation into the company contracted last year by Immigration New Zealand to process visa applicants in China, VFS Global Services.
"Taxpayers will have to pick up the bill for identifying and deporting those who cheated to get into our country, and are fraudulently enrolled in our education system," said party leader Winston Peters in a statement.