A new visa to support migrant exploitation is "confusing" and fails to address the "root cause" of exploitation, migrant advocates say. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

An immigration tool to support exploited workers may only temporarily protect workers from bad bosses, advocates say.

A new migrant visa category that aims to protect the country’s most vulnerable workers fails to address the underlying cause of exploitation – linked visas – Anu Kaloti, president of Migrant Workers Association says.

As of July 1 exploited migrant workers on visas linked to their employer can apply for the Migrant Exploitation Protection Work visa.

The visa allows workers to leave their exploitative employment relationship and gives them half a year to find another job, while the matter is investigated by the labour department. 

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This initiative is part of the Government’s $50 million action plan to combat exploitation

But with migrant workers’ visas still linked to employers, the concern is that while the new visa offers some protection for workers to leave exploitative jobs, they may just end up working under another exploitative boss in the future.

Kaloti says while the new visa ignores the “root cause”. 

Migrant workers whose visas are tied to their employers are often at the mercy of their bosses, Kaloti says.

She says the six-month timeframe may also be too short to find new employment. This is a concern she raised with Immigration NZ when it consulted her organisation before announcing this visa.

Mandeep Bela, president of the Union Network of Migrants says if visas must be linked, amid the current skills shortage, they could be linked to skills rather than employers.

Migrant workers and advocates have been calling for work visas not to be attached to employers for years. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

“This visa is an acknowledgement by the government that people in employment assisted visas are exploited, but it’s not addressing the issue,” Bela says.

“It’s like we’re going centuries back when people were enslaved by different owners, but we’re turning a blind eye to this modern day slavery.”

Bela says the criteria for applying for the new visa was unclear, and after Newsroom raised this with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment it updated its advice.

The advice on Immigration NZ’s website has been updated to clarify workers must apply for the visa within one month of receiving an assessment letter from Employment New Zealand.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokeswoman Nicola Hogg clarified Employment New Zealand will assess any reports of migrant exploitation as soon as they are received.

Workers who wish to complain about their employers have the option of sending a form or calling a dedicated 0800 phone line.

Once MBIE assesses the complaint is credible the migrant will be given a report of exploitation assessment letter.

Migrants will need to submit their letter when they applying for the Migrant Exploitation Protection visa, within one month of receiving the assessment letter.   

Hogg says the department will “aim to contact the complainant within three working days to confirm any details needed to make an assessment”.

“An initial assessment will occur as quickly as possible,” she said.

Kaloti says she has been assured these assessment reports will be fast tracked under the Labour Inspectorate’s new migrant exploitation sector.

But she says there is little detail about how the Labour Inspectorate plans to assess the exploitation claims while protecting the complainant.

“This visa is an acknowledgement by the government that people in employment assisted visas are exploited, but it’s not addressing the issue.”
– Mandeep Bela, Union Network of Migrants

Bela says he has some is skeptical about the timeframes.

“I think we all know by now how long the Labour Inspectorate takes to handle issues. Normally it can take up to a year to assess a case, so I don’t know how they’re going to assess within a month, as per the immigration criteria.

“It doesn’t give too much confidence to those workers in exploitative conditions and if they don’t know the process or are unsure, this is not going to help them.”

Bela says the exploited migrants he advocates for work long hours, many without weekends or days off, making it difficult to seek out information about their rights.

When Bela tried the dedicated phone line earlier this week, he was taken to the Labour Inspectorate who said they had nothing to do with immigration, couldn’t give him a timeframe on how long assessments would take.

He says migrant workers would benefit from having a separate department that is run by both the immigration and labour departments in conjunction.

Bela says his organisation has asked to meet with Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi several times but has not heard back.

“He should be fronting up these conversations so he can work with us to find solutions rather than ignoring the problems.”

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