Immigration changes come into effect

A raft of immigration changes come into force today, with migrant networks and unions praising them but also warning that they might not go far enough.

One of the major changes is that migrant workers who are currently holding an Employer Assisted Visa, which binds the workers to a single employer and to a particular location of work, will be able to apply for an open work visa. This gives workers the option of changing employers, should they find themselves exploited, and means employers have less power to threaten staff into accepting work that breaks employment law.

However the Essential Skills Visa, aimed at increasing the skills needed in New Zealand’s workforce, remains locked into one employer. This means it is very difficult for a worker, whose skills are in high demand, to look elsewhere if the employer is treating them unlawfully.

Union Network of Migrants and Indian Workers Association organiser Mandeep Bela said it’s a step in the right direction to restoring an imbalance of power for workers on the employer assisted visa.

“Locking-in a migrant worker to one company is essentially enforcing bonded labour,” he said. “Now, at least migrant workers on the employer assisted visa will be able to exercise their right to move jobs if they are not treated well or are being exploited, just like any other New Zealander would be able to do. It is what we’ve been asking for, especially to help newly graduated students, and the Government has responded so for that we are thankful.”

However, Bela said if the Government really wants to stamp out the exploitation of migrant workers, the move must also include those on the essential skills visas.

“Workers should be able to apply for a visa for their specific skills in a particular industry rather than be locked to a specific employer. This would ensure their skills are where they are needed the most, and the skills we most desperately need are paid for at a true market rate.”

A survey of essential skill visa holders undertaken by the IWA showed more than 65 percent are claiming to have been exploited due to their visa being attached to a particular employer and to a particular location.

“In audits done in the past we’ve seen some horrifying levels of exploitation. Our survey shows this is what migrant workers desperately need. This new legislation needs to go that bit further to ensure we put an end to these inhumane practices.”