Wellington, Oct.3 : The New Zealand Labour Department has admitted to losing track of 33 members of a group of Indian pilgrims who arrived in the country in July en route to the attend the Pope's Youth Day rally in Sydney.
Of the original group of 40, seven have been deported.
The group told media they had paid for visas that would allow them to stay in New Zealand "forever", but had been ripped off by a conman in India.
In fact members of the group were only issued one-month visitor's visas.
After the one-month deadline expired, 36 members of the group still remained in the country.
A departmental spokesman told the New Zealand Press Association that 12 had applied for students' permits, but all had been turned down.
In August the department said it knew where 20 of the group were and was looking for the remaining 16.
But today a spokesman said the number of missing pilgrims had risen to 33.
"We're keeping an eye out for them. When we locate them, we will remove them," the spokesman said.
Members of the group were believed to have paid 17,000 dollars to an agent in India who organised their travel visas and told them they could stay in New Zealand "forever".
The department spokesman said that officials were continuing to gather information about alleged fraud and would eventually decide whether to pass it on to Indian authorities.