Norm Holley is on the case of the disappearing bakers.

The 69-year-old secretary of the Bakers Union says he's sick of seeing his industry used as a stepping stone by immigrants who only want permanent residency.

Figures obtained by the union under the Official Information Act show that 1933 people were brought in from overseas to fill shortages of bakers between 2012 and February this year, and 2367 local and 717 international students trained here over the same period.

"It's a rort," claims Holley, who represents workers at bread and pie plant bakers and independents and has worked for the union for 32 years. "If we had a shortage, I would have it in the [part of the] industry I look after."

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Holley says bakers in the mainstream industry get paid about $25 to $29 an hour and up to $33 for night work. Supermarket workers tend to get between $15.25 (the minimum wage) and $21 an hour and he suspects the rate in most hot bread shops would not be any higher.

"The industry we're in basically pays okay, so these people would be wanting to get jobs in our industry - and we're not seeing them."

He believes bakery jobs have become a backdoor immigration route for international students and other migrants looking for a supposedly skilled job that will earn them a work visa and a chance to win permanent residency.

"We're being used to get PR because it's so easy to set up a bakery. You don't see an engineering shop on every corner, but you do see a hot bread shop."

It is not clear how many migrants who come here as bakers stay in the industry. Immigration NZ area manager Darren Calder says a third of the 1326 people applying for work or residency visas as bakers and pastrycooks from 2012 to February this year still identified with those occupations.

The other two thirds had either gained a residency visa or had become permanent residents, so Immigration NZ did have not any information about where they were working.

The Immigration NZ figures obtained by the union show supermarkets hired the most bakers on visas, with 120 bakery applications for Countdown and 191 for New World and Pak'nSave over the period.

But Progressive Enterprises, which owns the Countdown chain, says 93 per cent of its bakery team in the past five years have been New Zealand residents and only 2 per cent have held international student visas.

Foodstuffs, which owns Pak'nSave and New World, says has it has fewer than half a dozen international students in its bakery team and less than 1 per cent of all staff are on work visas.

The series

• Monday: Visa and school fraud
• Tuesday: Student exploitation
• Wednesday: Effect on immigration