Immigration officers will gain police-like powers to enter and search homes without a warrant under law changes designed to stamp out exploitation of migrants - a move that is being questioned by lawyers and civil rights groups.
The Government is cracking down on migrant exploitation after reports of international students and temporary visa holders being underpaid, trapped on their employers' premises and, in extreme cases, forced into prostitution.
At present, immigration laws offer protection to illegal migrants who are exploited, but not to migrants who are legitimately working here. The Immigration Amendment Bill (No 2) will introduce heavy penalties including deportation for migrant bosses or business owners who exploit workers.
As part of the reforms, Immigration New Zealand officials will be given greater tools to crack down on worker abuse.
Immigration New Zealand staff already have powers to enter premises but only to serve a deportation notice and only if they have reasonable grounds to believe the person is in the building.
If the bill passes, officials will be able to apply for and execute search warrants, instead of requiring police to execute the warrant. They will be able to search employers' premises without a warrant to search for employees or documents, and compel bosses or workers to answer questions.
The bill also explicitly states that the powers will not be limited to business premises, but will apply to homes or dwellings.
Law Society spokesman Rodney Harrison, QC, said the law changes triggered Bill of Rights issues, in particular the right to be free of unreasonable search and the right to remain silent.
He said that the extended powers should be used only in exceptional cases where the need was clearly justified.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said yesterday the bill aimed to give authorities the powers needed to effectively enforce the Immigration Act. Analysis by the Ministry of Justice found that the changes were consistent with the Bill of Rights.
The bill passed its first reading with support from all parties except Mana, though Labour and Greens questioned whether some provisions could breach human rights.
*New criminal offence for exploitation of workers on a temporary visa.
*Penalties of seven years' jail and/or up to $100,000 fine for employers who exploit migrant workers.
*Exploitative employers who are also migrants can be deported.
*Immigration officers can execute search warrants, or search premises (including houses) or seize documents without a warrant.
*Biometric information can be collected from people known to be liable for deportation.