Immigration New Zealand (INZ) investigators have found more migrant work visa scam victims as an urgent hunt continues for accommodation for those being evicted.
The 24 men staying in the Manurewa property are among a group of more than 100 migrants from India and Bangladesh who allegedly paid thousands of dollars for employment agreements with local recruitment agents to work for accredited employers but have received no work or pay since arriving.
INZ officials investigating the case said they have identified another 29 victims, taking the total number housed in crammed and unsanitary conditions in 10 houses across Auckland to 144.
Immigration Minister Andrew Little met with community representatives last Saturday and told the Herald he has raised the migrant workers’ housing plight with immigration officials.
Those living in the Manurewa house have been told in a letter they were in breach of the Residential Tenancies Act and were not allowed to stay there. The letter said no more than three people were allowed to live in the house.
“At the weekend I visited the Takanini Gurdwara where we had discussions about a range of immigration topics, including the support they provide to migrants and businesses that support migrants,” Little said.
“I informed Immigration officials of accommodation matters they raised with me, as I said I would.
“Officials have advised me that they are working with other government agencies to provide a range of supports that are needed, including accommodation.”
Victim Support, the Ministry of Social Development and the police, as well as community representatives, were helping with the migrants’ welfare.
One of the men, 25-year-old Parjinder Singh told the Herald they feared they could “die in the cold” if they were evicted and had to sleep in the streets.
Singh had paid about $20,000 for his visa and a false promise of a fulltime job that paid $30 an hour and would lead to permanent residency for him to support bringing the rest of his family here.
The men arrived via the Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme, a key policy introduced by the Government to help fill labour shortages.
Groups of between 20 to 40 who entered under the scheme are being crammed into two- and three-bedroom properties.
Investigators visiting the residences where the workers were staying found the properties were unsuitable for accommodating such a large number of people.
Little last month ordered a review of the scheme after “serious concerns” were raised by a whistleblower that proper checks were not being carried out.
“There are alternative pathways to support migrants including the Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa (MEPV), the Dismissed Worker Visitor Visa, or they can apply to transfer to another accredited employer,” Little said.
He said the Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa was created to support migrants who are victim of exploitation to remain in New Zealand locally, get their affairs in order or seek alternative employment.
“I am seeking assurance through an independent review that the processing requirements of employer accreditation are being complied with. That is under way,” Little added.
An INZ spokeswoman said the government takes exploitation of migrant workers very seriously.
“MBIE is leading a cross-Government team to look at options for welfare support and suitable temporary accommodation for the Indian and Bangladeshi nationals who arrived in New Zealand with the promise of employment that didn’t eventuate,” she said.
“As part of this work, MSD is working with MBIE to support these workers into suitable employment.”
Supreme Sikh Society of New Zealand president Daljit Singh said he had offers from the Sikh community to house about 80 of the victims.
“However, I don’t think housing them with the community or at the Gurdwara is a long-term solution,” Singh said.
“We are waiting to hear back from the Government and Immigration New Zealand on what they will do.”
Jeet Suchdev, convenor of the United Voice Community Trust and the Indian High Commission’s representative in distributing food and supplies to the victims, said the eviction has been put on hold “for the moment”.
“It is still very much an emergency situation, we are trying our best but of course there is still a worry that not all of them will get a roof over their head,” Suchdev said.
Besides the Indian High Commission, INZ said it was also working with the Bangladeshi High Commission in Australia during its investigation.
Lincoln Tan specialises in covering stories around diversity and immigration. He’s been a journalist at the Herald since 2006.