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Migrants with visas linked to employers under investigation told not to come to NZ

Ten migrants scammed out of thousands of dollars for visas have been stopped at the border and turned around, and almost 200 others have been told not to travel to New Zealand.

The migrants were promised jobs with a handful of employers that are now being investigated over the mistreatment of 115 migrant workers from India and Bangladesh.

It has been two weeks since the South Asian workers on accredited employer work visas (AEWV) were found living in crammed and unsanitary conditions across six houses in Auckland, and said they had had no income for months.

Their experience is the latest in a series of revelations of migrants paying thousands for a visa and a job in Aotearoa, then arriving to find little or no work available.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) said it had contacted 193 people with visas linked to these employers under investigation, and advised them not to come to New Zealand at this time.

INZ national border manager Peter Elms said they would be sending the migrants further updates within a week, which would outline the options they could consider.

Immigration Minister Andrew Little revealed at a media briefing on Saturday that about 400 visas were issued to the five to six employers being investigated in relation to case of the Indian and Bangladeshi migrants.

He said 10 workers had been turned away at the border over the past two weeks.

Advocate Mandeep Singh Bela said those migrants turned away on arrival, and those told not to come, were in a difficult position.

"Really sad obviously, because some of them have already paid the money to those agents, they won't have anywhere to recover those money, at the same time, because the jobs don't exist, it's also very difficult for them to come here and not have any jobs," he said.

Bela said most of the workers have their visas tied to employers that are labour hire companies - companies that recruit workers and contract them out.

Many of the workers had paid agents in various countries which have links to the New Zealand employers, he said.

Bela said he was aware of workers who had come from Qatar, India, Singapore and Dubai.

Meanwhile, INZ said since 18 August, it had started work to identify companies that had been allowed to bring in 30 or more migrant workers - but insisted this was not an audit.

INZ deputy chief operating officer of immigration Simon Sanders said the purpose of this was to understand the number of employers seeking high volumes of migrant workers, and what types of businesses they were.

Questions over labour hire company oversight

Some experts are concerned that the labour hire sector is a high risk area for migrants that is being overlooked.

Figures from INZ show that under the AEWV scheme, there are now 186 high volume triangular employers in New Zealand - the majority of which are labour hire companies.

Previously, between the financial years 2017/2018 and 2021/2022, the number of labour hire companies allowed to hire migrants had not exceeded 33.

Immigration advisor Katy Armstrong said it was not coincidence that the increase in labour hire companies happened at a time when accreditation checks were looser than ever.

"I have personally seen evidence that labour hire companies have oversubscribed, they've seen an opportunity, they've mushroomed... and there's middle fees going on and there's no work to sustain them.

"And because Immigration's not checking the sustainability aspect of the jobs as they would've done in the past, you've just got this complete perfect storm and recipe for disaster," she said.

Currently, there is no cap on the number of migrant workers an accredited labour hire company can bring in, and no cap on the number of roles a single job check can cover - so long as they are the same type of position in the same location.

Armstrong said for migrants, being tied to a single employer already creates vulnerabilities, but being tied to an employer that is a labour hire company is "double jeopardy" as the jobs can be speculative.

The director of the University of Auckland's Centre for Research on Modern Slavery, Christina Stringer, said there needed to be more checks and balances on labour hire companies.

"I would see them as a potentially high risk area, and [they] should be subject to ongoing checks… we don't know if that's been happening or not, nobody officially has come out and said whether that's happening or not," she said.

Meanwhile, the Public Service Commissioner will be reviewing the AEWV scheme's processes, after a whistleblower came forward with allegations that some checks on employers were not being made, and some checks as part of the job check process were not being made.

To date, two out of six accredited employers who have had their accreditation revoked were labour hire companies.

INZ is investigating 173 companies over complaints against accredited employers.

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