Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) decision this week to make changes to the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) to protect migrant workers is both welcome and worrying. 

The good thing is immigration officials have finally dropped their insistence that everything is kosher about the process in which the visa is issued.

The problem is they failed to pick up, or at least act on, numerous reports of potential loopholes in the visa process that made it susceptible to fraud.

New provisions have been announced to firm up the process to provide an extra layer of safety for migrants, including removal of a 90-day trial period that allows employers to sack new recruits. It is purported to act as a deterrent for ill-intentioned employers.

The AEWV was opened last year to make it easier for employers to hire overseas workers to fill critical shortages in New Zealand’s labour market. The aim was to reduce red tape and fast-track the hiring process.

Cases of nefarious employers and agents misusing the visa provisions to beguile prospective immigrants have been pouring over the last year.

Immigration officials have maintained a rather rigid stand all this while, saying cases of frauds were outliers, and that the high-trust model of offering accreditation to employers and permitting them to hire overseas workers with lesser screening was largely working well.

Industry insiders have been saying that line of argument flies in the face of ground realities. The matter came to a head a few weeks back when as many as 144 overseas workers, mostly from India and Bangladesh, were found living in squalor for weeks in Auckland.

The overseas workers had arrived on an AEWV visa but their agents could not place them in the jobs they were promised. The workers say they paid up to $44,000 to secure a job offer.

As much as INZ would like to back the AEWV process, the reality is any application process that waters down oversight is prone to misuse. The question is not whether the hiring process needs to be made easier and faster. Yes, it must. But how much can the rope be stretched before it snaps?

A review of the process was long overdue, and while it is good to finally see some progress, it does make one wonder how bad immigration was waiting for the abuse to become before it ordered a review.

Ever since the latest visa fraud came to light a few weeks back, immigration advisers say INZ has tightened screening and AEWV applications are now taking more time to process, and they are being asked more questions about applicants.

The whole fiasco has put the spotlight also on the staff shortage that plagues INZ. The department just does not have enough hands to scrutinise applications as rigorously as they should.

There is already talk of automation and using artificial intelligence in the visa process so applications can be checked properly and in a cost-effective way. That is, of course, not coming anytime in the immediate future.

Till such time, the government would do well to reconsider the way it approaches the visa process. The current rules can often be complex, and hard to grasp even for immigration officials, particularly those with less experience.

Making the rules simpler and objective will not only increase processing times but also make it possible for a short-staffed INZ to carefully consider more applications, instead of having to apply a high-trust model in the process.

The onus of safeguarding the interests of migrant workers, however, does not lie solely at INZ’s doorstep. Applicants must take responsibility for their actions and apply not just due diligence but also common sense when deciding to, for instance, pay a fee to procure overseas job offers.

Quite often, it is not that difficult to tell a scam from a genuine operation. Applicants must apply the same quality of rigour in their efforts that they expect from the immigration department.

At the same time, INZ must stop hiding behind the veil of trust to wash its hands of miscreants abusing its rules. After all, if you keep your front door unlocked, you cannot expect thieves to follow a high-trust model and keep off your property.