Immigration New Zealand has revealed that it has received 711 complaints against accredited employers and 154 are being investigated for criminal offending.
Of these, 52 employers are under assessment to have their accreditation revoked and, as of August 14, six have already been revoked and five suspended.
Steve Watson, INZ’s general manager of immigration compliance and investigations, released the figures at the New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI) annual conference on Friday afternoon.
Watson said 151 of those complaints have been referred to INZ’s compliance department as they relate to migrants working in breach of visa conditions and 406 to Employment New Zealand as these were about breaches of employment law and migrant exploitation.
The agency has so far approved 453 migrant exploitation protection visas since the category opened on July 1, 2021, and this has been steadily increasing year on year; 63 in 2021, 125 in 2022 and 265 in the eight months of 2023.
Watson said that between July 1 last year and August 21, 2023, INZ has received 6591 complaints through the National Prioritisation Process.
Speaking at the conference held at The Cordis Auckland, National Party immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford slammed migrant exploitation situation as “so bad” she thinks “it’s the worst human suffering we have seen in this country, maybe ever”.
Stanford said migrant worker exploitation levels as a result of lowering the levels of checks on employers have reached record levels, and what has been reported in the media is just “the tip of the iceberg”.
In May, the Herald reported hundreds of Nepalese are believed to have paid up to $30,000 for visas to non-existent jobs resulting in a warning by the Nepalese Consulate.
Two months later, it was uncovered that up to 250 migrants from South American countries had also been duped into paying large amounts for visas to come here on a false promise of jobs that could lead to residency.
On Monday, the Herald attended an immigration sting after dozens of migrants from Bangladesh and Pakistan were discovered crowded inside a three-bedroom home.
Multiple investigations over the mistreatment of migrant workers are underway and INZ has spoken to 115 workers from India and Bangladesh who came on accredited work visas and were found living in cramped and sanitary conditions across six houses in Auckland.
The migrant workers paid thousands for a visa and job in New Zealand, but since arriving have found little or no work, and most have had no income for months.
Catriona Robinson, associate deputy secretary for immigration at MBIE, said at the conference “there are bad actors who seek to exploit any pathway to Aotearoa”.
“The AEWV process provides us with the most recent example of this. I acknowledge the recent media reporting about the cases of migrants exploited by unscrupulous agents and employers, both here in our country and in some cases before they have even travelled here,” she said.
“Sadly, exploitation of migrants is nothing new to our immigration system, and it’s something we take very seriously wherever we encounter it.”
Robinson said the independent review into the AEWV programme, as ordered by the Immigration Minister, will consider and report on the appropriateness of all aspects of the employer accreditation and job check processes.
“The review will identify any appropriate next steps for improvement in the administration of the scheme with a focus on mitigating the risk of migrant exploitation and irregular migration,” she said.
The review is expected to be completed by mid-December and will be made public.
NZAMI chairwoman Arunima Dhingra urged whoever was to be the incoming government to consult the association when formulating future policies.
“My plea is that our country desperately needs stability, the right balance of robust verification protocols, strong compliance systems as well as facilitating seamless entry of international talent to fill into our labour shortages,” Dhingra said.
“To those that will be a part of the incoming government, we request and invite with open arms to consult with us, the representation of the immigration industry, on what policies NZ needs.”