An Immigration New Zealand (INZ) crackdown on illegal prostitution has resulted in the deportation and voluntary removal of 27 Asian sex workers.
One sex worker told the Herald massage parlours in Panmure were last week being visited by immigration officials, but the agency did not respond to the Herald's request for confirmation.
Although New Zealanders are able to work as prostitutes since 2003, it is illegal for people on temporary visas to do sex work.
Taiwanese made up a third of the foreign sex workers who were removed, followed by seven from Hong Kong and six from China. Others include two from Macau, one Malaysian, an Indian and one Thai.
A Chinese sex worker, who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, said many in the industry felt that Asians were being "targetted" in the crackdown.
"Sex workers come here from everywhere, and from the advertisements you can see Brazil, Nigeria, Argentina...but you never hear any of them being deported," she said.
INZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy confirmed a Chinese woman caught in a brothel raid was among those who were voluntarily removed.
The 30-year-old China national came on a student visa to study English, but was found at a Ponsonby brothel naked and with a customer.
According to police, the woman was given an opportunity to fully dress before they spoke to her.
She admitted to being a sex worker and told police how much she was paid.
Police also spoke to a man who had paid for her services.
"INZ can confirm that she las left New Zealand, this was a voluntary departure after being served a deportation liability notice earlier in the year," Devoy said.
"For privacy we are unable to provide any further information on this case."
Deportation liability notices have been served on 38 individuals on temporary visas found to be engaged in providing commercial sexual services in the last three years, Devoy said.
The agency did not keep figures on the number of brothels visited in a reportable format.
Tuariki Delamere, the woman's immigration adviser, said he told her it was best for her to leave the country after seeing what the police had on her.
"The threshold needed to prove commercial sexual activity is pretty high, but in this case it's as good as it gets for the cops," Delamere said.
"She was found naked in the premises, spoke to the cops and there was also a client there."
Delamere said he was "not against" INZ and the police cracking down on illegal prostitutes but believed most raids were being conducted unlawfully.
"Under current prostitution law, you need a warrant to enter a brothel or any premises to check on the immigration status of workers," Delamere said.
"I am sure as hell nine out of 10 times the cops don't have one."
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said in a letter to Hamilton sex worker Lisa Lewis that "no visa can be granted to a person on the basis that they intend to provide commercial sexual services".
He said information received from Lewis had been forwarded to INZ's compliance and investigations team.
"When INZ receives information to immigration fraud...the information is assessed to determine whether further action can be taken," Lees-Galloway said.
Lewis said she was keen to meet the minister to discuss the issue, and ways on how local sex workers could help in the fight to end illegal prostitution.
Lees-Galloway said he had nothing further to add when approached by the Herald.
INZ confirmed it had received allegations from Lewis, but there had been insufficient evidence for an investigation to date.
"We have not received direct or corroborative evidence to support the allegations," an INZ spokesman said.
"INZ will assess any further information provided."
Christchurch sex worker Amber O'hara said foreign, illegal prostitutes now outnumbered New Zealanders in the industry when you counted what was being advertised.
Officials stopped 312 suspected prostitutes from entering the country last year.
Dr Chung-Hsing Chou, director general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Auckland, said his office would be "giving more publicity and relevant information" and urging Taiwanese to follow the rules when travelling here.
Chou said none of the deported Taiwanese sex workers had approached his office for help and it had not received any official information from INZ on the matter.
"According to Immigration's border report, most Taiwanese visitors obey NZ regulations and behave," he said.