Don't repatriate Filipino workers, pleads consul

By Lincoln Tan

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Philippine consul-general Emilie Shi has called on the New Zealand Government to "have some compassion and human consideration" as thousands of Filipino workers plan to outstay their work permits.

"These people have sold and disposed of everything back home and have nothing to go back to. Many have come to see us desperate and in tears," she said.

Migrant Advocacy group Migrante Aotearoa says workers will work underground rather than go back to the Philippines.

Many temporary migrant workers have lost their jobs in the recession or will not get their work permits renewed because the Department of Labour says New Zealanders are now available to do the work.

Ms Shi said about 30,000 Filipinos were here - many on work permits or the work-to-residence scheme - and asked the Government to consider letting them work outside their professional field, to fill jobs that New Zealanders shun.

"It will be a win-win situation. The workers will continue to pay taxes, fill the job gaps, and be available when New Zealand needs them when the recession is over," said Ms Shi, who has raised the issue with Ethnic Affairs Minister Pansy Wong.

"I understand that we are in recession, but as in any other countries - the United States and United Kingdom - they don't repatriate migrant workers. They let them work in cafes or in jobs the locals don't want to do."

Temporary workers come to New Zealand to fill skill gaps, and if they lose their jobs, their permit becomes invalid and they are required to find another job under the same scheme or leave.

Dennis Maga, national co-ordinator for Migrante Aotearoa, said: "They came here on a promise that they can start a new life, now suddenly New Zealand wants them out - but they have nothing to go home to.

"These people have nothing to lose. An increasing number we represent are already overstayers and are being forced to work underground, becoming subject to exploitation by employers and creating a whole new problem."

Migrante Aotearoa is one of several migrant advocacy groups seeking an urgent meeting with the Immigration Minister to request an amnesty and an interim policy to let these workers stay on legally or face a phenomenal increase in overstayer numbers.

The Department of Labour says there are approximately 17,000 people in New Zealand unlawfully, but there would be a drastic rise in the number even if a fraction of the 188,000 on work permits - or 38,349 temporary migrants under the labour tested category - decided not to go home when their permits were up.

Last week, the department, which oversees immigration, slashed 44 occupations from the Immediate Skill Shortage List.

Employers who want to continue employing a migrant worker after a permit expires are now required to show that no New Zealanders are available for the job.

The department says immigration policy ensures the needs of New Zealanders come before those of migrant workers in the job hunt, ensuring Kiwis have first opportunity to take up work vacancies.

Agnes Granada, spokeswoman for the Migrant Action Trust, which organised an immigration forum for migrant workers to meet government officials last month, said her group was struggling to get an appointment to present its position paper to Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman.

The group wanted to meet the minister tomorrow, but had been told the earliest he could see it was July 9.

A spokeswoman for Dr Coleman said she could not comment on the delay because "all meeting arrangements are private".

- NZ Herald

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