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Indian Migrant's Fight Against Exploitation Headed For Sad End

MBIE officials say they are investigating Harish’s complaint that was lodged in June 2023

The 29-year-old from the western Indian city of Surat is furious. He anxiously checks his phone and emails.

“I am waiting for a response from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to check if my exploitation visa has been extended further.”

Harish (name changed), a marketing management graduate, decided to take matters into his own hands by contacting immigration officials after struggling for a year-and-a-half upon arriving in Auckland. 

Currently working at a store, Harish spent months researching online to file a complaint against his employer who he says brought him to Auckland. 

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Harish says he soon realised he had been scammed by someone he trusted—someone who he claims promised him “international exposure” and assured him his dreams would take flight in New Zealand.

MBIE officials say they are investigating Harish’s complaint that was lodged in June 2023. His employer, whose name we are withholding, operates a beauty studio and told The Indian Weekender he had already been cleared of the charges–although in an email to this journalist MBIE indicated the investigation was ongoing.     

“To protect the integrity of the investigation process, Immigration New Zealand does not comment on ongoing investigations,” an MBIE official had said. 

Harish reached Auckland on an Accredited Employer Work Visa in November 2022, expecting to work as a laser technician in a beauty studio. 

He says his employer demanded nearly NZ$30,000 (about 1.5 million Indian rupees) for the visa—a fee Harish says he and his family believed was necessary for a new life abroad. 

He says his family sold their home and raised about NZ$21,000 (about 1.1 million Indian rupees), with a promise to pay the remainder once Harish started working in Auckland.

The reality, he says, turned out to be devastating. Instead of a fulfilling job that would allow him to pursue his passion, Harish says he found himself trapped in a low-wage job, far from the promises made to him. 

“When I landed here, my employer refused to offer me the job I was promised. My employer asked me to work for cash at a different job, and to make it appear legal, he would deposit my pay into my account and then I would return the money to him," Harish told The Indian Weekender.

When he confronted his employer, who owns three businesses in Auckland, Harish says he received verbal threats.

"My employer threatened to cancel my visa and said he would take me to gangs to have me beaten up," Harish says.

Such stories of not-so-kosher employment deals have become familiar over the last two years.

Harish initially lived with his employer for six months in shared accommodation, but when he confronted his employer about flouting immigration rules, he says he was kicked out. 

He says he then went on to look for low-skilled jobs like a security guard and working at a restaurant to make ends meet. He claims he worked 70-80 hours a week to pay his employer the rest of the money he owed in return for a job. 

"I was tired. I did not want to do this anymore."

As he started researching why he was “wronged,” he posted his ordeal on a Gujarati community WhatsApp group, only to be removed by the admin. 

With no other option, Harish decided to look for answers online, filed an official complaint with Immigration New Zealand, hired a community lawyer and began his fight.

Harish’s employer declined an official comment when contacted by The Indian Weekender multiple times.

"I have no comment on this matter. The MBIE has already cleared me of any wrongdoing," the employer told The Indian Weekender over a phone call.

Harish says he appointed a private lawyer who guided him through his case. "My lawyer took my details and sent a notice to my employer, asking him to return my money and offer a job as per Accredited Employer Work Visa rules.”

Dilkhush Surani from Auckland-based Surani Associates, Harish’s lawyer, says, “After thorough checks and evidence, I drafted a legal notice to Harish’s employer but never heard any response from him.”

Surani says his firm decided to fight migrant exploitation cases pro bono. “I came across five such cases in recent weeks. I noticed a similar pattern of exploitation in all five cases.”

However, in Harish’s case, Surani Associates guided him to move ahead with the employment dispute by appointing a community lawyer.

The Indian Weekender got in touch with MBIE, where Harish had officially filed a complaint against his employer in June of 2023, a copy of which was also accessed by this journalist.

Harish was granted his first Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa (MEPV) in July 2023, and then granted a further extension in January 2024, says Dominic Forde, Operations Director, Visa, from MBIE.

However, MBIE has declined to comment further on the ongoing investigation in Harish’s case.

As of today, Immigration New Zealand has allowed Harish to work on an immigration exploitation visa. The MBIE says, “The intention of the MEPV is to get people out of exploitative situations and provide them with a six-month visa that allows them to look for other employment."

“If the individual isn’t able to find employment in that six months, they can apply for one extension of up to six months to find suitable employment. They are not able to apply for a further extension based on the same exploitative situation after those 12 months."

“[Harish] Has until July 2024 to apply for a further visa appropriate to his circumstances, or make arrangements to depart before the expiry of his current MEPV.” 

Harish has managed to survive on photography stints so far. “But what about many others like me who are barely managing on their savings from India?” He worries.

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