Exclusive: Government accused of stealing after taking tourist tax from people denied NZ visas

A tax levy introduced last year on visitors entering New Zealand to help fund tourism infrastructure is under scrutiny as the $35.00 International Visitor Levy is also being collected from people who never set foot in the country.

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The tourist levy was introduced last year. Source: 1 NEWS

Foreigners denied visitor visas here are automatically charged the levy, with some calling it theft.

Already close to a million dollars has been covertly collected in just six months.

The levy is effectively a tax on tourists to help pay for tourism and conservation infrastructure improvements.

But the problem is those who apply to come here as visitors but are turned down are also paying.

The levy was introduced last July and figures obtained by 1 NEWS show in the first six months to December almost 285,000 thousand visitor visa applications were lodged with Immigration New Zealand but more than 24,000 of those were declined.

Still, they were charged the $35.00 levy meaning the government pocketed more than $850,000 from people who'll never set foot on Kiwi soil.

Robyn Kurth and her group of friends attempted to bring out two Ethiopian guides to New Zealand as visitors but they were refused entry.

She says the Government taking the fee from them amounts to theft.

“So where's the $35.00? I want it back,” she says.

“It can't be charged to people who are not coming here. How can we charge them if they're not actually going to use the facilities?”

Immigration lawyer Ramya Sathiyanathan calls it deception.

She says the online application is far from clear about the levy.

“It's hidden, I presume quite intentionally in the online application form and it's only when you print a receipt you see it's been taken as part of the overall fee,” she says.

The ministry says collecting the levy at time of application keeps admin costs down and confirms there is no provision for refunds.

“What I think is important is that it's clear to people up front is that that fee is non-refundable and I think that's something that immigration New Zealand needs to deal with and i understand that they are,” he says.

1 NEWS approached a number of tourism agencies who have projects funded by the levy but refused to comment.