Migrant exploitation in NZ
Migrant exploitation by unscrupulous employers
The job of our leaders in New Zealand is to keep abreast of important issues as they arise, and to respond appropriately. One such response was the enactment of legislation aimed at combating migrant exploitation, with punitive measures up to 10 years imprisonment, $100,000 fine, revocation of residence visas and deportation.
This attempts to send a strong message, but the question is,:
“How effective is this legislation in stopping migrant exploitation?”
The annual Diversity Forum organised by the Human Rights Commission in Christchurch heard that migrant workers face the risk of working under inhuman and slave-like conditions.
Migrant exploitation in NZ: Students victimised
Although we do not know if this menace is widespread, anecdotal evidence shows that migrant exploitation is rampant in the hospitality sector. Students with work visas are a particular target of migrant exploitation as they are desperate for jobs that will help them get a NZ residence visa. We have heard the exploitation practices are so common that some students think employee abuse is the norm.
This practice creates an unhealthy and unwarranted competitive advantage; these rogue employers pay far less than the minimum wage, reducing overheads and maximising profits.
Exploiting people who are most vulnerable is unforgiveable. It is very unfortunate that such practices have become part of our employment scene, as is certainly not a part of the New Zealand psyche. Why the perpetrators’ moral compasses are not working is an inquiry for another day.
A case is currently before the courts and we await the verdict.
Migrant exploitation in NZ: Youngster cheated
Deepak (not his real name) has just finished his qualification. Like most others, he came here in search of a better life. He was granted a job search visa and was looking for employment. Meanwhile, he went to India to visit his family. While he was there, he was told that Mr M, a man in Auckland might be able to give him a job.
Deepak flew back to New Zealand and contacted Mr M who gave him the job of managing a restaurant and provided him food and accommodation. Weeks rolled by but there was no mention of either the salary or paper work that Deepak would need to gain permanent residence in New Zealand.
Eventually, Mr M said that he would support Deepak’s application for residence, but there was a fee of NZ$20,000 (with guaranteed refund if the application for residence visa failed).
Deepak’s parents in India agreed to pay the fee and took out loans, and started repaying in installments with much difficulty. Mr M recommended Deepak to an immigration ddviser who assisted him with the two-stage Skilled Migrant residency visa process.
Residence Application declined
Apparently, Mr M had a deal with the immigration adviser. Deepak would be paid normal wages, but he was asked to then pay back all but $70-$100 per week by withdrawing cash from various ATMS and at liquor stores.
The residence application eventually failed as the restaurant was not financially viable.
Deepak was desperate. He asked Mr M to refund the money paid and was fired from his job. With nowhere to go, Deepak spiralled into depression. With no one to guide him in this country, he had one hope: to speak with his family in India for guidance. Out of desperation, he used someone’s credit card to top up his mobile phone.
The Compliance Team at Immigration New Zealand (INZ) started the process for Deepak’s deportation. He was terrified and did not know who he could trust to help him. One of his co-workers brought him to me at Idesi Legal on a Saturday morning for immigration advice.
Deepak is an example of the desperate circumstances under which many international students and migrant workers live in this country.
Our firm has been battling this case on three fronts: Labour Inspectorate, Immigration Advisers Authority and Compliance Operations.
The challenges immigration lawyers face
The challenges we have to overcome are: jurisdiction (the transfer of funds took place in India, not New Zealand), providing evidence that supports the claim of migrant exploitation (the exploiters knew how to cover their tracks), and finally providing a suitable outcome for Deepak when the legislation provides no recourse.
While the technical legal challenges continue, this sad situation leaves me wondering:
Does the legislation go far enough to protect such people?
Will M be held accountable?
How much of victim is Deepak ?
Does our immigration policy encourage employers to exploit innocent victims?