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New Immigration Law amendment bill has been introduced into parliament which will have impacts on foreign workers and students once passed.

Two main changes to be aware of are:

1 – Exploitative Employers Employers found guilty of hiring foreign workers on conditions below the standard New Zealand employment requirements will face jail sentences of up to seven years and a maximum fine of $100,000. Exploitative employers who hold residence visas may also be liable for deportation.

2 – New Rights for foreign students The Government also claims the new laws will make it easier for foreign students to work while they study in New Zealand. Students here to learn English will now also be able to seek part-time employment. Full-time students will be allowed to work during all course breaks and doctoral and research masters students can find full-time work. The Government believes the changes will make New Zealand more attractive as an education destination.

3 – Our View. While we obviously support the first law change as it protects migrants from exploitation, we also question whether the Government’s motivation here is really to protect migrants or make it easier for them to migrate to New Zealand long-term and have meaningful opportunities here. In fact what is offered here in terms of employment rights is a very minor concession which many migrant groups have been calling for many years. It is a minimum right that students should be able to work in New Zealand as they are in Australia and other developed export education nations. The effect of policies such as this will be essentially to bring more lowly paid foreign workers into the New Zealand job market (many of whom will have little qualification and low English language skills.) This will support the exploitative workers discussed above by giving them a pool of workers ready to exploit by paying either below or just above minimum wages.

These changes could open new opportunities to exploit migrant workers which goes against the purpose of the first change. As migrant workers union Unemig national co-ordinator Dennis Maga points out: “Student visa holders are the most affected group in migrant worker exploitation,” and “Unlike immigration advisers, education advisers do not require to be licensed and this would just open up a new pathway to residence for them to promote to many who are not genuine students.” Many industries in New Zealand are currently being propped up by lowly paid migrant workers who do jobs (and at pay rates) which many New Zealanders are unwilling to do. The pay rate issues are not the fault of migrants but rather the Government which has repeatedly refused calls from opposition and Union bodies who are calling for a minimum living wage which would be available for migrants as well as New Zealanders.

We believe that our Government would be better placed to concentrate on making the transition from student visa to work visa and residence a lot smoother for the genuine and highly skilled students who are already here and struggling. Many of our clients who have already studied diploma level courses such as business and management and are seeking visas through employment in their fields are being challenged by Immigration New Zealand every step of the way as they attempt to build their careers here in these areas. The expense and difficulty faced by these migrants is making New Zealand a less favoured destination for international students as most are aware of stories about INZ refusing visas to well qualified applicants.

Meanwhile, we now have these proposed changes which effectively undermine the chances of these migrants finding employment in hospitality and retail areas by making it easier for employers to just hire a steady stream of unskilled student labour rather than invest in developing careers of migrants over the long term. Perhaps this is exactly what the Government wants. We see this change as a thinly veiled attempt by INZ to ensure that a constant churn of students keep the economy afloat by working for cheap (slightly above minimum wages) while ensuring that it is increasingly difficult for them to become permanent workers or residents in New Zealand. It is much easier in Australia for International Student graduates to become permanent residents as it should be when they are choosing it as the destination for their study. Contrary to what INZ and the Government seem to think, when migrants choose a country to study they are not basing this only on a short term goal of being students, but more often than not have every intention of staying in that country in the long-term to secure employment in their field and to eventually become residents.

The Government would do well to look at an overhaul of the current Student Job seeker and Graduate work experience visas as well as the skilled migrant visa categories to make it much easier for the students who have invested thousands into studying here to become permanent members of our society. They are largely coming here due to the opportunities offered by New Zealand which go beyond an education to a good lifestyle and career opportunities. The New Zealand economy is currently surviving on migrant labour as it is allowing employers in key sectors such as tourism, hospitality and retail. If not for migrants employers wouldn’t get the low salaries they require to make a profit and consumers wouldn’t get the low costs they demand.

New Zealanders are happy to take advantage of this situation but are the first to complain if prices or cost of doing business increase. While we are happy that migrants will be protected from exploitative conditions, we think the Government has spent a lot of money on this area without seriously addressing the real concerns of the International Student market. In fact they may even have just made things worse for long-term migrants. As usual they are not listening to the people they claim to be trying to help. If you want to find out how these changes will affect you please contact us for more information.

Jig Patel  | Director  | Immigration Centre