The dream of a better life for their families in New Zealand appears to have been tarnished for another group of migrants.
A Bay of Plenty advocate for a group of 200 migrant workers from South America says they have paid thousands for visas and employment agreements, under the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) scheme to work with a construction company, but have had little work or money and are now in dire circumstances. The company at the centre of the stoush is disputing the allegations.
Their story has resurfaced after an initial report by the Herald at the start of last month.
Their case is far from isolated.
From allegations of ”duped” Pacific Islanders in Hawke’s Bay as far back as 2005, to Fijian workers on Bay of Plenty kiwifruit orchards, to cases of restaurant workers in Auckland, to the country’s first convictions in 2016 for human trafficking involving Fijian orchard workers, the exploitation of migrant workers has been evident for some time.
Now, new alleged cases, including those of the South American migrants, an uptick in exploited Indian migrant workers in Auckland, and a case involving 115 migrants from India and Bangladesh, are raising further concerns, many in relation to the AEWV scheme, which was implemented just over a year ago amid the push to reopen the Covid-closed border and attract desperately needed staff in critical areas.
A major investigation into the scheme was ordered by Immigration Minister Andrew Little last week, although an immigration lawyer had warned at the end of last year the scheme was “a breeding ground for employment exploitation”.
Like previous ones, the visa scheme cases coming to light are likely to be the tip of the iceberg.
Many migrants risk and give up much in pursuit of a job in New Zealand and earnings that can provide a new life for their families. Migrants who are exploited once they reach this country may not have the knowledge or ability to complain about the circumstances they find themselves in or may be unlikely to complain through fear of the repercussions. Even those who do are not always successful in pleading their case and sent home anyway.
It only takes a few bad apples to tarnish employers’ image, and there are many individuals, businesses and industries offering vital lifelines to migrant workers whereby all parties are winners.
But these cases of exploitation keep cropping up, year after year. They have been hiding in plain sight for a long time. Are Kiwis perhaps unwilling to look because “they” are “not us”?
Certainly it is a sad indictment on our nation’s hospitality, and hardly the image we would want to sell to the world to attract much-needed migrant workers.
Stories such as the young Colombian worker in Queenstown, living in his car because of a lack of affordable accommodation in the resort town - again only the likely tip of the iceberg - are a further blight.
Sadly there are many New Zealanders also struggling with unfavourable working and living conditions, and few easy fixes in sight. But as long as we actively encourage workers here to help plug essential gaps, we have a duty of care to them, too.