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Tonga Visa Applications In New Zealand Put On Hold
Processing halted while Tonga ‘police clearances’ scrutinized

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Feb. 19, 2013) – New Zealand's immigration minister has put an immediate hold on Tongan visa applications that require a police clearance.

In a statement today Hon. Michael Woodhouse, said the visas would be held, "until Immigration New Zealand can be satisfied with the integrity of the police clearance process."

Applications for residence and most work visas need a police certificate, but this is not needed for short-term visas such as a visitor visa.

The statement did not indicate whether INZ would continue to clear applications on an individual basis, or whether the minister intended a more general hold on all applications requiring police clearance.

The New Zealand Immigration manager in Nuku'alofa, Antony Jukich said this afternoon that he was unable to answer queries on behalf of INZ, and could not say how many visa applications were currently being held awaiting police clearances.

Cooperation

In Tonga, the Police Commissioner Grant O'Fee said today that close cooperation was being offered to the New Zealand and Australian High Commissions in Nuku'alofa.

"It will take [police] 48 hours not 24 to process all applicants for clearances for the foreseeable future," he said.

Meanwhile, Tongans who are awaiting police clearances are left uncertain as to when they might travel.

Tonga's scholarship officer confirmed that students required a police clearance. Most had already traveled to New Zealand to start the 2013 academic year, but two first year university students on government scholarships were awaiting their visas.

"We were advised by the New Zealand visa officer that the two applications were on hold because of that situation," she said. The pair were hoping to leave on Saturday to reach the University of Auckland and Massey University in time for orientation.

Convictions

The New Zealand Immigration minister's action follows accusations last week that Tonga police officers had wiped convictions from police records of Tongan citizens, under an unwritten policy that was tacitly approved by a former and now deceased Minister of Police. The practice was stopped in recent years.

Tonga's Police Commissioner O'Fee said today that the entire records of the Tongan police had been searched "This had revealed that 172 records had been 'cleared'. To clear this means that the records are still intact but that letters had been sent stating that the person making the application had no records when they clearly did have."

INZ stated it had completed an initial analysis of 172 names provided by the Tongan authorities and estimated around 40 people may be currently in New Zealand, including some who hold permanent residence.

Hon. Woodhouse stated, "It is totally unacceptable for anyone to enter New Zealand by providing misleading information and I am taking this very seriously. …I have asked Immigration New Zealand to place the highest priority on finding any Tongan nationals who have committed serious crimes and should not be in New Zealand."

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