The $200 million migrant exploitation problem

The deputy prime minister believes getting migrants and refugees to declare they understand 'New Zealand values' will help solve migrant exploitation. Teuila Fuatai debunks that, using the Government's own intelligence reports. 

It’s not cheap relocating countries, especially to New Zealand. We’re not particularly close to anywhere, and requirements to work and/or study often involve doing medical and language tests - none of which are free. 

But for those who want the quality of life our leafy shores represent sacrificing thousands of dollars to get the perfect visa application is worth it. But what happens when it doesn’t work out? 

Articulated by deputy prime minister Winston Peters on RNZ yesterday:

“You’ve got countless examples which have been carried by the media, from the mass exploitation of Indian students in this country, and the mass exploitation of new nationals into this country in our restaurant trades….”

At the time, Peters was using New Zealand’s problems of migrant exploitation to justify the need for the proposed 'Respective New Zealand Values Bill'.

Authored by New Zealand First MP Clayton Mitchell, the bill wants migrants and refugees to declare they respect sexual equality, 'all legal sexual preferences', and religious rights during the immigration process. Refraining from campaigning against alcohol status as a legal substance is also a requirement of the bill.

According to Peters, checking how well a 'new New Zealander' understands these values is a way of addressing exploitation of migrants. 

“It would certainly help,” he told RNZ. “One of our values is that we do have a minimum wage, we do have minimum work standards and if people are massively exploited, then there has to be consequences for people that do that. And frequently, it’s been done to their own.”

Peters brings up an important point. Immigration leads to a mixing of cultures, often handled like a negotiation between two or more types of worlds. Some are better at doing it than others - both in cases of welcoming new neighbours, and being the new neighbour. It is a learning process, which changes over generations.  

However, the evidence for trying to alter that process and address migrant exploitation through a declaration of 'New Zealand values' isn’t particularly clear. 

From a Government perspective, perhaps a more sensible way to address migrant exploitation would be to fix problems at Immigration New Zealand that appear to enable fraud and scams in the immigration system. 

Latest available year-on-year figures show Immigration NZ earned about $200 million in visa processing fees in the 12 months to July last year. The fees made up about a third of the Ministry of Business, Immigration and Employment’s income for the period. The 2016/17 figure was also $60 million more than it was five years ago.

Related to this are reports coming from MBIE highlighting the pressure placed on immigration officers to process visas. One report made a direct connection between the decline in the level of scrutiny taken with visa applications and the impact on fraud in other parts of the immigration system.

It said:

“Immigration branches are also required to ensure 90 percent of temporary visa applications are decided within 25 working days. The targets disincentivise IOs [immigration officers] from questioning documentation provided, requesting additional evidence, or conducting higher levels of verification.

“Reducing the opportunity of scrutinising risk indicators at the visa application stage for the purpose of timeliness measures has implications for maintaining the integrity of the immigration system. The impacts of failing to identify fraud at the visa stage are transferred to other parts of the immigration system, including investigations and compliance, where fraud is more difficult to identify and resolve.”

The Government’s own reports indicate the volume of visa applications being accepted for processing is simply too much for the number of immigration officers it has to properly assess and determine how genuine those people are behind them.

A drop in the millions earned through visa application fees may not be a particularly attractive proposition for those running the country. However, a policy focused on proper border scrutiny at Immigration NZ rather than a declaration of values from newcomers would likely be a more effective, and intelligent, way forward. 


Read more: Adhere to 'New Zealand values' or get out

High targets bad for visa system

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