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Immigration New Zealand (INZ) gets a slap on its wrist again for doing things improperly. This time, it was found not only in breach of the good old ‘fairness and natural justice’, but also in the high-handed attitude in dealing with someone’s livelihood.

Recently, the High Court in Auckland held that the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), of which INZ is a business division, has unlawfully suspended processing visa applications through Edenz College Limited (Edenz), an education provider with some 30 branches based internationally: Edenz College Limited v Chief Executive Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment HC Auckland, CIV 2012-485-2532, 14 December 2012.

In fairness, MBIE got off on the best foot. It worked on information that some New Zealand education providers were linked with a large-scale student labour scheme. The investigation was necessary to uphold the integrity and quality of our export education industry.

However, it fell on the old habit of jumping the gun too quickly. On 22 November 2012, MBIE notified Edenz that all student visa applications would be indefinitely suspended.

As if it was not an enough bombshell, MBIE and NZQA issued a joint press statement about their investigation on the suspected labour scheme by some schools, and [as a consequence] it suspended processing visa applications from four education providers including Edenz. Unwittingly or otherwise, the statement was carefully worded to blow enough smokes that Edenz was one of the suspects of the illegal labour scheme.

In his honour’s brief judgment Ronald Young J held that the MBIE was in breach of its own Operations Manual, which required it to take into account ‘evidence’ and ‘reasons’ and severity of non-compliance, all of which could have mitigated the unsubstantiated allegations. Strikingly enough, MBIE argued at the hearing that its action was justifiable because it thought Edenz could not have come up with any of those mitigating factors.

In fact, on evidence was Edenz’s arguable case that the allegations on which MBIE’s decision was based were factually wrong and Edenz already answered the allegations of non-compliance by MBIE: per [45] to [53].

Edenz has been around some 25 years on. Many teachers and staff are employed in the business. Some 500 students were enrolled. At stake were their livelihoods and the business, which deserved a lot better treatment than this. Yet, here we see MBIE’s disinterested attitude of ‘Talk to my hand, sir’.

You would have thought a competent government agency like this one would do things by the book, but at times it seems unsure if it knows what it does. My cheers go to the lawyers who have successfully represented Edenz and upheld the justice in the end.

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