By Katie Scotcher for RNZ

A group representing migrant workers says the Government's overhaul of work visas has failed to remove a clause that means they can be treated like modern day slaves.

The Government yesterday announced a new employer-led work visa it said would deal with labour shortages, reduce exploitation and improve conditions for New Zealand workers.

But the Migrant Workers Association said the long-awaited changes were a disappointment and didn't go far enough.

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Under the new system, six visa categories, including essentials skills and long skill shortages, will be replaced by one temporary work visa.

All employers will need to be accredited to recruit foreign workers and there will be thorough checks before the visa is issued.

Specific terms and conditions will be negotiated with sectors that are highly reliant on foreign workers, such as the aged care, dairy and construction sectors.

Employers will also be required to train and make their jobs appealing to New Zealand workers.

Anu Kaloti from the Migrant Workers Association said the changes would help everyone but foreign workers.

"It'll probably make the administration side of things easier for Immigration New Zealand to have this one type of visa, rather than six different ones. It sounds like it is going to help employers where there are shortages, especially in the regions."

The Government has said the changes will ensure foreign workers are recruited only for genuine shortages, help reduce exploitation and will create better connections between immigration, education and welfare systems.

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But Kaloti said it is likely workers will continue to be exploited as they will only be able to work for a single employer.

"If they wanted to attach a certain occupation, or a person's visa to a region, or to an industry sector, that still is manageable and workable. But attaching a person's visa to an employer is basically just modern day slavery."

Under the new system, lower-paid workers will be able to bring their families to New Zealand. That was the only positive change, Kaloti said.

"We feel it's important for families to stay together, especially when they're trying to make a go of life in a very new environment, a new country, so it's important the families are not kept apart."

Anu Kaloti. Photo / RNZ
Anu Kaloti. Photo / RNZ

Mandeep Singh Bela from the Indian Workers Association said the changes left many migrant workers feeling uncertain about their future.

"A lot of them are currently either are already on existing one of the six categories, or some of them are thinking to apply for one of the six categories, so at the moment they are a bit confused about what's going to happen."

A migrant worker, who RNZ has agreed not to name, has been working in New Zealand for almost a decade.

He described the changes to work visas as confusing and said he was no better off.

"So I have been working all the time, so the requirements they will ask me to [apply for] residency or the skill shortage, by the time I reach that requirement Immigration changes its rules again."

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the new visa would give employers more certainty and foreign workers more assurances about their conditions.

It will benefit up to 30,000 businesses by making it easier to employ foreign workers in the short term, he said.

The changes will be implemented gradually from next month and will be in place by 2021.

- RNZ