The recent news of the Associate Minister for Immigration Kris Fafoi granting a reprieve by offering a compassionate visa to four students earlier deported from New Zealand has expectedly brought much needed rejoice for the deported Indian students and their support advocacy groups.
However, the bigger question remains as it is if the current government has done enough to address the plight of more than two hundred odd students who were forced to leave the country under relentless pressure from Immigration New Zealand since 2016.
The Immigration Lawyer Alastair McClymont, who have been representing the cases of a large number of deported Indian students with Immigration New Zealand (INZ), Ombudsman, and the Associate Minister for Immigration asserts, “Clearly not enough.”
Speaking to The Indian Weekender Mr McClymont said, “At the time of students taking sanctuary in the Unitarian Church in Auckland, a lot of Opposition MPs, including the then Leader of the Opposition Andrew Little, and Jacinda Ardern had visited and assured that if they come in government they will allow the students to stay.”
“Now after the change of the government, eighteen months have gone, but nothing has happened,” Mr McClymont said.
It is important to note that despite the recent reprieve for three students, nothing substantial has been done by the new government, which had promised to act with compassion once in power, to deliver justice for more than two hundred Indian students forced to leave the country against their wishes.
First, it was not appropriate to act as it waited for Ombudsman report
From the very beginning, the MPs in the new government, who were quite vocal in extending their support to the protesting Indian students while in the opposition, took a safe stand of not talking publically about the individual cases of deported Indian students on the pretext of their cases being pending before the Ombudsman.
Speaking at a celebratory event held at the Auckland’s Unitary Church on October 29, 2017, immediately after the formation of new Labour government, where many deported students had joined through Skype, Kiwi-Indian MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan had said, “These cases are in front of Ombudsman, therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on them.”
Since then the MPs in the government has maintained a consistent approach of refusing to comment on specific cases of deported Indian students, and instead claiming to work to remove the scope of exploitation, believed to be embedded within New Zealand’s international education and immigration system.
However, what is noteworthy is the fact that the Ombudsman decision had come on June 21, 2018, and not much has been heard from the government suggesting any systematic action for reviewing the cases of deported Indian students.
No action taken even after the arrival of Ombudsman decision
The Ombudsman has confirmed the legality of INZ’s actions in deporting a large group of Indian students in 2017 and 2018, but criticised INZ’s policy and methodology in processing student visa applications and noted that the Government decided not to put in place any mechanism to regulate or to monitor the actions of these fraudulent agents.
As a consequence of the Ombudsman’s investigation, INZ has offered to review the files of 213 student visa applications and report back by October 2018 – an assurance that no one yet knows with confidence if it has been honoured.
The Associate Minister for Immigration Kris Faafoi has then agreed to personally reconsider seven applications (in addition to the 213 INZ has offered to audit), of which three has been approved, and three declined on Thursday, April 18 2019.
Moreover, Immigration New Zealand was also supposed to clarify their character policy after the Ombudsman decision, of which nothing has been heard so far.
The government, in its eighteen-month tenure has remained non-committal on either scrutinising the actions of INZ or doing anything significant to deliver justice to deported Indian students who have been removed from the country for no fault of theirs, Mr McClymont told the Indian Weekender.
Then, it was possibly a case of lost political interest.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was reported as late as February 2019 as saying “it's no longer appropriate for her to advocate for a group of deported Indian students, while the government is actively considering some of the students' cases.”
Ms Ardern had then told the RNZ given her advocacy occurred in opposition it was no longer appropriate for her to advocate the case. However, she had said Labour MP Deborah Russell had picked it up and was supporting the students in their applications to reverse the deportation orders.
Although, it’s not clear if the government or any MP in the government is working towards the bigger goal of delivering justice to the two-hundred-odd students deported from New Zealand.
Nevertheless, there have not been any hints or public declaration by the government or any MPs in the government suggesting that there was any intention to order a review of the plight of deported Indian students.
Why the government cannot offer deported Indian students a general amnesty
It is imperative to ask the question that why the new government has not ordered a review of the cases of 213 expelled Indian students so far or even better and fairer, to offer a general amnesty to all students deported by INZ for allegedly providing fraudulent financial documents – a charge vehemently rejected by students.
The offer of blanket approval for visas for Indian students would not be without precedent in New Zealand.
At least on one previous occasion, New Zealand government had offered a general amnesty to a large number of visa/residency hopefuls – Pilipino dairy workers – who INZ believed have provided false document but could not prove beyond doubt that they were a party to the fraud, and were subsequently allowed to remain in the country.
It is pertinent to ask this government what is stopping it from acting decisively and with kindness and compassion that it often claims to represent.
This is even when firstly INZ had failed to prove beyond doubt that Indian students were a party with their fraudulent agents and subsequently the deported Indian students were given no opportunities whatsoever to defend themselves in court.