NZ government bolsters support for exploited migrant workers

Published 26 September 2023 | 2 min read

What changes can we expect in New Zealand's immigration policies?

Migrant exploitation is a serious problem in New Zealand. Migrants are often vulnerable to exploitation because they may be unfamiliar with their rights, afraid of losing their job or visa, or isolated from their support networks.

Migrant exploitation can take many forms, including:

  • Underpaying workers
  • Overworking workers
  • Providing unsafe working conditions
  • Withholding wages
  • Requiring workers to work excessive overtime
  • Providing substandard accommodation
  • Charging excessive fees for recruitment or other services
  • Using physical or verbal abuse

Migrant workers, who have invested substantial sums and their hopes in securing a better future in New Zealand, have found themselves crammed into substandard accommodations and left without the promised jobs they were lured in with. This dire situation prompted the government to take swift action to rectify the systemic issues in its immigration system.

The government's multifaceted approach to addressing this problem includes several key measures aimed at providing immediate relief and long-term solutions for exploited migrants:

In September 2023, the New Zealand government announced a number of changes to the immigration system to increase protection and support for migrant workers. These changes include:

1. Short-term basic financial support and job search assistance for people on the Migrant Exploitation Protection Work Visa (MEPV)

This financial support is designed to help cover accommodation and living expenses while they actively seek employment opportunities in New Zealand. The financial assistance, benchmarked at approximately $50 per person per day, can be increased up to $100 per person per day, depending on need. This support will continue until the visa holder either secures employment, reaches the visa's expiry, transitions to a different visa category, or departs from New Zealand.

Furthermore, Community Connectors and E Tū Whānau community groups will receive one-off funding to address immediate needs that may arise among MEPV holders.

2. An option for people on the MEPV to apply for a second MEPV if they need more time to search for a job

This second visa grants an additional six months or until the expiration of their original work visa, whichever is less. Applicants must meet all visa requirements and demonstrate reasonable efforts to secure a job qualifying them for an Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV).

Importantly, no additional exploitation report is required, as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) will assess the claim's authenticity based on available information. Officials are diligently working on implementing this change in a fair and equitable manner, with more details expected to be released soon.

3. Removal of the 90-day trial for migrant workers on the Accredited Employer Work Visas (AEWV)

This change aims to encourage accredited employers to treat migrant workers fairly and hire them only when there is a genuine labour need or skills gap.

The revelation of hundreds of exploited migrants suffering in dire conditions and uncertainty has indeed highlighted the failure of the current immigration system to adequately protect vulnerable individuals seeking opportunities in New Zealand.

The New Zealand government's recent announcements signify a firm commitment to address the challenges faced by exploited migrant workers.

These measures not only provide much-needed relief to affected individuals but also send a clear message that New Zealand is dedicated to safeguarding the rights and welfare of all migrants within its borders.

As these changes are implemented, it is crucial for Kiwi leaders to stay informed about the evolving immigration landscape and ensure they adhere to the new regulations.

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