Ethnic restaurant owners last night hit back at claims by New Zealand First leader Winston Peters that some Auckland diners were "fronts" for immigration fraud.
Mr Peters said yesterday: "Drive down Sandringham Rd and Dominion Rd and tell me that all those restaurants are purely for restaurateurs.
"No. Many are immigration cover. People pay serious money to come in, all under the table, all wrong, all a total degradation of this country's standards when it comes to workers, and all under our nose."
Mr Peters alleged some restaurants were charging "phenomenal sums" for job offers to bring people in from overseas.
"Look at all the restaurants and tell me how are these viable?
"They aren't unless some of them have a back-up industry - and it's immigration, for which they charge phenomenal sums."
But on two famous roads, the MP's views were shot down. Ramani Alwis of Taste of Sri Lanka on Sandringham Rd said: "It is hurtful to be accused or be put together in one group with people who do immigration fraud. Winston Peters cannot just generalise. We work hard to keep our business going, and we are law-abiding people."
Claudia Cheng of Mighty R.O.C Taiwanese Cuisine on Dominion Rd said: "It's unfair for Winston to single out restaurants in two areas.
"Immigration fraud does happen, but it happens everywhere and not just Dominion Rd and Sandringham."
Santhiya Restaurant owner Yougeswari Subramaniam said: "I have worked hard to run my restaurant here on Dominion Rd for more than 10 years, and I can assure Winston Peters we are no cover for immigration fraud."
Gary Holmes, of the Dominion Road Business Association, said: "We know many of the business owners personally and they are all genuine, hard-working people."
Mr Peters' claims follow Labour leader Andrew Little's call for the flow of immigrants to be slowed to lessen the pressure on Auckland. Mr Little spoke of semi-skilled ethnic restaurant workers as an example where New Zealand staff could be hired instead. He back-pedalled on that example yesterday, saying it was put to him by a media outlet. "I do care about ethnic chefs, they are very important to us as a nation. I wouldn't touch ethnic chefs as a policy item at all."
He believed special provisions for chefs such as those from China were "a good thing", but high net migration was putting too much pressure on the country.