Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

'Money, not traffickers,' lures migrant sex staff

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Migrant prostitutes here are not victims of people trafficking and many are in the sex trade for the money, research on migrant sex workers in New Zealand has found.

However, one in six are breaking immigration law by working in the sex industry and 5 per cent cannot refuse clients and do not have easy access to their passports.

The findings by researchers Kaitiaki Research and Evaluation will be released by the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective this morning at the "Prevent People Trafficking" conference.

The study found 86 per cent of migrant sex workers in New Zealand came from Asia, and more than a third travelled here because they knew someone who lived here.

More than 60 per cent travelled here alone, 44 per cent came as tourists and more than a quarter hold the student visa.

A total of 124 migrant sex workers were interviewed for the study, which was conducted predominantly in Auckland.

Catherine Healy, the collective's national co-ordinator, said there were an estimated 1700 prostitutes in Auckland, but it was not known how many were holders of temporary visas.

Although prostitution has been decriminalised here, it is illegal for those on temporary visas, such as students or visitors, to work in the sex industry.

"The findings suggests there are no signs that migrant sex workers here are victims of trafficking," Ms Healy said.

Immigration fraud and compliance manager Peter Elms said the study had helped to "lift the veil on employment practices" within the sex industry.

"While the report's findings in respect to working conditions was positive, there were a number of concerns raised, including that 5 per cent of those interviewed stated their workplace did not allow them to refuse clients and that 5 per cent did not have easy access to their passports," Mr Elms said. "Unfortunately the survey did not clarify what was meant by not having easy access and so it is difficult to draw any conclusions based on this one factor alone."

The US State Department last year named New Zealand as a "source country" for sex trafficking of underaged forced labour, and said a small number of girls and boys were trafficked domestically as street prostitutes.

It said foreign women from China and Southeast Asia were recruited to become prostitutes and may be at risk of coercive practices.

AUT University researcher Danae Anderson said she was aware of cases where sex workers have had their passports taken by their employer.

"They were told they will be reported to immigration if they complained about their conditions," she said.

Foreign prostitutes

57%: On student, work or visitor visa
86%: From Asia
26%: Came to New Zealand "to study"
35%: Knew someone living here
76%: Did sex work to pay household bills
5%: Could not refuse clients and did not have access to their passports

Source: Research on migrant sex workers in New Zealand

- NZ Herald

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