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New Zealand begins hunt for Tongan immigrants with criminal histories


14:55, February 19, 2013

WELLINGTON, Feb. 19 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand immigration officials are to track down Tongan nationals who were admitted to the country on the basis of falsified criminal record statements from the Tongan police, Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said Tuesday.

Immigration authorities had also immediately suspended visa applications needing police clearance from the tiny Pacific island country until they could be satisfied with the integrity of the process, he said.

"I am extremely concerned about this situation and have asked Immigration New Zealand (INZ) to place the highest priority on finding any Tongan nationals who have committed serious crimes and should not be in New Zealand," Woodhouse saids in a statement.

INZ had completed an initial analysis of 172 names provided by the Tongan authorities and estimated about 40 people could be in New Zealand, including some holding permanent residence.

"The figures are only provisional at this time and more details will be known over the coming days. I am satisfied the Tongan authorities are now doing everything they can to assist in our investigations," he said.

"While it appears the majority of people on the list have committed only minor offences, it is clear that a number of Tongan nationals are in New Zealand on the basis of incorrect declarations regarding their criminal convictions."

Applications for residence and most work visas required a police certificate, but not short-term visas such as visitor visas.

Tongan officials announced last week that some Tongans with criminal histories had wrongly been issued with police letters stating they had no convictions.

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