Immigration New Zealand is considering action against the director of a company that made a migrant worker pay her own wages to support her application for permanent residency.
South Pacific Ltd was last week ordered by the Employment Relations Authority to pay more than $74,000 in repayments and penalties to Chinese national Jingxin Tian for breaching its statutory obligations and the Wages Protection Act.
Miss Tian paid South Pacific director Catherine Guo more than $33,000 to be employed as an advertising sales representative for the Asian Business Year Book so that she can meet a requirement for residency.
Immigration is now assessing whether Ms Guo had also offended against the Immigration Act, which carries a fine of up to $100,000 and seven years' imprisonment.
"Immigration will not tolerate employers who exploit migrant labour for their own commercial advantage and we will take swift action against those who are implicated in such behaviour," said Peter Elms, general manager intelligence, risk and integrity.
"Immigration takes exploitation of migrant workers extremely seriously ... and will take whatever action that is appropriate."
May Moncur, an employment advocate with Employment Disputes Services, has handled about 60 cases in the past 24 months involving migrant workers who were exploited because of their immigration status. She believes the practice is widespread.
"Migrants on temporary visas often just accept the terms and conditions laid down by the employers because they want to get a permanent visa, and many just don't know their rights," Ms Moncur said.
"Official complaints against these employers are also rare because the migrants are worried about losing their visas, getting deported and having other implications in terms of their immigration status."
Ms Moncur, who was Miss Tian's advocate, said she was "encouraged" that Immigration was now investigating the employers instead of "just deporting" migrant workers who lodge official complaints.
Miss Tian, who has been granted a new student visa, said she took her former employer to the authority because she did not want other Chinese students to suffer. "I paid the $33,000 believing it was a condition for employment, and worked hard because I thought it was a real job," she said.
Ms Guo could not be contacted for comment yesterday and calls to her office were not answered.
Dennis Maga, co-ordinator for migrant workers union Unimeg, said the practice of migrants entering into agreements with employers to pay their own taxes and wages to get residence has been going on for years.
Getting a job is a requirement for permanent residence.
The requirement: Generally, being in fulltime paid employment is a requirement for permanent residence.
The deal: Employers charge a fee to offer jobs and migrants pay their own taxes and wages.
The scam: Applicants use the fake wage payments as proof of employment to apply for residency.
The penalties: If caught, employers face a fine of up to $100,000 and/or seven years' jail, and applicants face revocation of visas and prosecution.