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Immigration New Zealand appears to be cracking down on Kiwirail’s Chinese locomotive provider, warning it will not be so free in granting visa extensions.

In April the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment closed an investigation into workers employed by CNR and contracted to remove asbestos from Kiwirail trains in Lower Hutt.

While the workers and CNR refused to give investigators their wage records, MBIE said it would not proceed as legal advice said the workers were probably not subject to New Zealand law.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse told Parliament on April 29 that he was happy with the situation as the workers were only here for a short time.

Woodhouse was “very satisfied that the Chinese workers in this instance were on short term visas and generally no more than three months per year”.

However Immigration New Zealand has confirmed that most of the workers, here on 90-day specific purpose visas, were granted 90 day extensions, meaning they were working in New Zealand for up to six months.

Of the 45 who applied for extensions, all of them were granted a rollover, an Immigration New Zealand spokeswoman confirmed.

Although Immigration New Zealand – which is part of MBIE – is denying that its officials made a mistake in granting the visa extensions, is has signalled that future applications are unlikely to be treated in the same way.

“No extensions have been granted since the Ministry’s investigation was completed,” Immigration New Zealand area manager Michael Carley said in a statement.

“Immigration New Zealand has advised KiwiRail that any future requests must meet a very high threshold and will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.”

Woodhouse also signalled that any future applications for visa extensions would be treated differently if they were made again.

“The Minister cannot foresee any circumstances where any future extensions to the 90 day visas would be justified,” a spokeswoman for Woodhouse said.

The Rail and Maritime Transport Union said on April 29 that tit was taking advice on a test case on the workers, to seek to clarify whether they were subject to New Zealand law.

“Allegations of exploitation demand more than a shrug of the shoulders and tentative legal advice,” general secretary Wayne Butson said.

“It is a complete and utter disgrace that our Minister of Workplace Relations is comfortable to have a question hanging as to whether New Zealand law will apply to a person working in New Zealand.”

 – Stuff

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