AUCKLAND, New Zealand – January 28, 2021: 6.25pm (RNZ PACIFIC): There are fears some members of a Tongan church in Auckland at the centre of a residency scam are afraid to file a complaint in case they are deported.
Tongan lawyer Nalesoni Tupou has come across more than 100 Tongans who have been promised residency for cash by two men who are not authorised immigration agents.
Some of these Tongans have been stuck in New Zealand due to border closures, said Tupou.
“I found out about this particular scheme on 05 January, and it is two Tongan males behind it.
One of them is a church minister operating the scheme from his Mangere address.
“The reverend promises the overstayers that their immigration status will be rectified and become lawful citizens of New Zealand,” Tupou alleged.
“He has told people that he has been authorised by the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the United Nations to look after Tongans who are unlawfully in the country.”
The man has apparently said getting residency involves going to Wellington with the overstayers to meet with the Prime Minister and attend the Waitangi Day celebrations in Northland in February.
“The final step of this process following Waitangi is that they will all gather at the Sky Tower, where there will be a High Court judge who will endorse their residency visa into their Tongan passports,” Tupou shared.
The Immigration Advisers Authority (IAA) are investigating the scheme and IAA registrar Duncan Connor warned that by law, any person giving immigration advice about New Zealand must be licensed by IAA unless they are exempt.
“Guides to using licensed immigration advisers are available online in multiple languages, including Tongan,” Connor said.
“The IAA encourages anyone who feels they have, or know someone who has, been given unlicensed immigration advice to contact the IAA and make a complaint.
“Due to the allegations about passports and money being taken from people, it may be appropriate for individuals to also consider getting in touch with local police to report theft,” Connor added.
However, Tupou said the families that have contacted him for advice, who have been caught in the scheme, do not believe the police or IAA can help them.
“They have paid around $500 per person to this unlawful character and up to $800 per family. There are Tongan immigration services out there that are legitimate, but their service is too expensive for these families.
“They are not in a position to go to the police because they are scared that they will be arrested for being unlawfully here.
“They don’t want to go to the government authority because they don’t trust them with their details and particulars. They’re worried in case they help IAA with the investigation, and then their details will be used to locate and arrest them and deport them to Tonga,” Tupou explained.
“At present, I know of nobody who is willing to file a complaint and that’s an issue for me and it should be an issue for the governments in New Zealand and Tonga.”
Tupou described the current situation as a stalemate.
“These Tongan families need something guaranteed in writing to tell inform them that if they choose to come forward to IAA, government officials will not arrest and deport them, but work on an alternative plan,” he said.
“This has happened around four or five times before and the last occasion was in 2016, which I was the person responsible for looking after these 1000 people caught in a similar scheme until 2019.
“The people will not come forward, I can tell you that, unless the government can promise them security,” Tupou added.