Migrant workers sold short by Immigration NZ

migrant workers

Immigration New Zealand should have done more to protect migrant workers. It should also have done more to minimise their exposure to work predators. It didn’t.

So wrote the Public Service Commission in its review report “Accredited Employer Work Visa Scheme”.

The scheme was established in July 2022 after COVID-related border closures resulted in a desperate shortage of workers.

To shorten visa processing times, Immigration reduced the number of checks immigration officers would normally undertake before making decisions.

The Commission’s review found that the newly established scheme led to migrant workers being able to buy jobs. The “employers” they’d bought the jobs from exploited them when they arrived in New Zealand.

The whistleblower

Last August, in an anonymous letter to the former Immigration Minister, a whistleblower alleged exploitation.

In it concern was expressed about the fast-track visa processes Immigration NZ was following.

The former Minister was concerned. He wanted to know if Standard Operating Procedures were being followed properly as he’d been given to understand.

Jenn Bestwick led the Public Service Commission’s investigation into the allegations mentioned in the letter.

The Commission’s report

Bestwick’s subsequent investigation and report into whether Immigration NZ had mitigated the risk of migration exploitation found much to be concerned about.

It found that while reducing the checks was reasonable under the circumstances, Immigration didn’t adequately assess the risk and impact the changes could have on visa abuse.

It resulted in ineligible employers being granted officially accredited employer status and some workers never being paid. Various other abuses occurred.

When Immigration staff raised concerns, their managers “failed to pay adequate attention” the review found.

But initial concerns staff raised about exploitation were too general to act on. This was a comment from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment chief executive Carolyn Tremain, who has overall responsibility for Immigration.

Not so, the Commission report says.

It says multiple staff members raised concerns with senior managers.

They were especially concerned that migrants had paid large amounts of money to secure a job and visa, and were giving scripted responses to officials to conceal this fact.

These staff members told the Commission they felt the responses from senior management were dismissive and the issues they were raising were “swept under the carpet”.

Deputy Public Service Commissioner Heather Baggott says changes to the scheme did not work as intended and ,though unscrupulous employers exploited migrants, the risk could have been mitigated.

“Immigration could have and should have done more to minimise the risk of that happening” she says.

She says Tremain is undertaking the necessary changes to the scheme to ensure it better protects migrant workers coming into the country.

“I expect the chief executive will continue to make improvements in line with the recommendations identified in the report. And the chief executive has assured me this will happen” she says.

Dozens and dozens investigated

Tremain says she has been “very clear” with the Head of Immigration about her expectations.

There are 174 investigations underway and one licensed immigration advisor is facing prosecution.

Tremain says some 145 have had their accreditation revoked and 53 have had their accreditation suspended.

Of 33,000 accredited employers, she says post-accreditation checks have been conducted on 2,700.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand.

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