18 Jul 2008

Indians could have been conned by same agent

6:58 am on 18 July 2008

Indian nationals who have run off in an attempt to make New Zealand their home illegally could all have been scammed by the same travel agent in New Delhi.

It is understood some of the 39 so-called pilgrims paid up to $NZ17,000 to a middle man in India, for what they thought would be visas to stay in New Zealand.

Three of the 39 say they had no idea they were bound for World Youth Day in Sydney.

The three young men were hiding in Tauranga before meeting with Immigration today to tell how they got caught up in a visa scam.

They said they'd been planning their move to New Zealand for more than a year, through an agent they met on the street in their village.

Instead, they were given 30-day visas, allowing them to stop off on their way to World Youth Day in Australia.

The chairman of the World Youth Day committee in Auckland, Maurice Boland, appealed for the travellers to contact immigration authorities.

The Sikh Association says immigration scams within New Zealand's Indian community are common and are highly organised.

Spokesperson Verpal Singh says there is probably also a local contact getting a cut of the money.

NZ 'not a soft touch'

The Immigration Service is rejecting claims New Zealand is a soft touch for immigration scams.

The president of the New Zealand Federation of Ethnic Councils, Pancha Narayanan, says Bollywood movies have portrayed this country as an easy immigration destination.

However, the head of the Immigration Service, Andrew Annakin, says New Zealand has advanced levels of security and is vigilant about trafficking.