Skilled migrants feel misled by work-visa policy

By Lincoln Tan

Chanon Jitkomut. Photo / Natalie Slade
Chanon Jitkomut. Photo / Natalie Slade

Bangkok university lecturer Chanon Jitkomut thought his Silver Fern work visa was a ticket to a job and a better life in New Zealand.

But the only opportunities the 33-year-old science graduate has found since arriving last month have been low paid and unskilled, including a food-court job that paid $6 an hour.

The visa policy was started to attract young, highly skilled migrants to settle in the country to give "businesses international connections" and "provide skills to transform our economic landscape".

Hundreds of people lodged applications within 30 minutes of the scheme's launch, but many who have arrived are struggling to find work.

A 34-year-old former business analyst with a multinational company is now working as a stripper to pay her rent.

Another who holds a master's degree in economics is working in a Korean restaurant for $400 a week.

Both resigned from jobs and took on loans to move to New Zealand. But they do not want to return home because they would lose face.

"The Silver Fern visa is like a trap," said Mr Chanon, a former hospitality lecturer at Suan Dusit Rajabhat University. "It gives you false hope and puts you in a position where you can easily be exploited as cheap labour by employers after you get here.

"I am desperate and I will take any job I can get, even if it is under minimum wage, because I have a wife and child in Thailand waiting for me to send money."

Under the Silver Fern scheme, people aged 20 to 35 can seek skilled employment for nine months. Once employed, they are issued with a visa to stay another two years to apply for permanent residency. The scheme has an annual quota of 300.

Of the 293 visas issued last year, only 85 people have found work or received a job offer. Eighty have not found employment, 70 have left the country and 58 have yet to arrive.

Immigration New Zealand said the scheme had attracted young, skilled people despite the tight job market.

"It does not guarantee them employment," said Immigration NZ chief Nigel Bickle.

"We'd advise them to research the labour market thoroughly to ensure jobs that match their skills and experience are available."

The National Distribution Union said the scheme was flawed, and it wants Immigration New Zealand to review it.

"All that's been happening is a repeat of the 'rocket scientists driving taxis' situation and clearly, many of those who came under the scheme feel they have been misled," said migrant support co-ordinator Dennis Maga.

Immigration New Zealand does not plan to review the policy.

- NZ Herald

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