Immigration

Stuck migrants working for lentils

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admits migrants will need more social welfare support than just food parcels, and she doesn't think telling them to 'go home' is the right solution either

Jacinda Ardern says there's a "gap" in the support being provided for unemployed migrants and the country will need a broader fix as it exits lockdown.

She also distanced herself from comments made by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters that migrants had a duty to "go home" if they couldn't support themselves.

"I haven't seen the entirety of the comments [from Peters]. My view is that many of those workers would not have had a chance to make those kinds of decisions."

"Things happen very, very quickly. Some will have lost their jobs at a point when it would not have been possible to make any other plans."

The Green PartyUnion groups, Former finance minister Steven Joyce, and others, have criticised the Government over its refusal to use s64 of the Social Security Act to grant emergency social welfare benefits to unemployed migrants.

'Lentils and chapati flour'

Out-of-work migrants aren't begging for food. They're working for it.

One unemployed migrant Newsroom spoke to worked at an Indian restaurant this week in the Northland electorate seat Peters once held.

"We are working only for the food, not getting any pay."

The 33-year-old from India, who did not want to be named, has lived here since 2015.

He was able to resume work at a Northland restaurant that started operating in a 'takeaway-only" capacity at Level 3.

With few food sales being made his "pay" comes in the form of lentils, fresh vegetables and chapati flour.

"There's no work and they [employers] are not going to hire. We're just stuck over here."

Lentils are a step up from food parcels of baked beans and spaghetti being handed out by Civil Defence where he's concerned.

He and two other migrants working for the same restaurant haven't received anything from the Government and are ineligible for financial support because they're migrants.

While they're no longer short on food that doesn't mean they aren't in trouble.

They're in debt to their landlord for a start. All three were denied a rent reduction (their landlord had a mortgage to pay) despite pleading unemployment.

If they don't pay their arrears - sitting at $1500 on Wednesday - by May 31 they'll be kicked out. 

Section 64

As lockdown came into force, the Government chose not to use its emergency powers to temporarily grant out-of-work migrants financial benefits, despite cabinet papers last week revealing they'd been told it was possible.

The Government has focused on a Civil Defence-led food pack and emergency accommodation response instead.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said anything more than Civil Defence support couldn't be supported by a country of New Zealand's size, and reiterated foreigners unable to support themselves had a duty to "go home", 

The stance came in for criticism from former finance minister Steven Joyce who said it was not "compassionate". 

"The Minister [of Social Development] has so far chosen not to activate the provision in the Social Security Act that would provide support to these people. I have no idea why.

"Her decision needs to be overturned urgently. This is another area where more compassion is needed."

Joyce told Newsroom the financial burden of supporting migrants through social welfare payments would be a "drop in the bucket" within the context of the Government's multi-billion dollar Covid-19 response.

'I value my head'

Ardern signalled the Government was looking for more ways to help out-of-work migrants ineligible for social welfare support. 

Civil Defence Director Sarah Stuart-Black was also in Auckland checking that the city's civil emergency management response was up to scratch.

"I acknowledge there is a gap there," Ardern said.

"We did use that initial [CDEM] response because it was fast, it got support out the door and it had flexibility.

"I don't deny that we will need a longer-term framework."

Ardern stopped short of saying benefits for migrants would form part of that, but also distanced herself from Peters' view that unemployed migrants should go home.

"We've always said we have to take a compassionate approach for those who found themselves in a circumstance where they were unable to make any alternative arrangements."

As for Peters, it was unclear whether his "go home" statement was a reference to stranded tourists or migrants who had lived here for years on work visas.

Asked for clarification his response was: "I'm referring to people who didn't leave and decided they didn't want to."

NZ First MP Shane Jones - who previously expressed an interest in using the Recognised Seasonal Employer scheme to revive the fortunes of struggling regions - didn't want to elaborate either.

"I champion the interests of the provinces, but I value my head."

"That's why I never ever speak against my leader."

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