It's here, it's all around us and it's serious:
The more detailed article behind that TV piece can be found here:
Since the government introduced the famous new Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme last year at the same time as our border re-opened, advisers, advocates, and Immigration NZ itself have been seeing an uptick in migrant exploitation. The very maladie the scheme was aimed at curbing. Back in 2019, the Minister of Immigration (the since-fallen Iain Lees-Galloway) assured us:
"The new visa would give employers more certainty and foreign workers more assurances about their conditions."
The stories of scams and exploitation have, despite this assurance, been ramping up in recent months and hence the cries to halt the scheme.
"Immigration New Zealand (INZ) general manager Richard Owen said the situation was concerning and they were aware of migrants being charged between $14,000 to over $30,000 by agents, and some being dismissed before even starting work."
Here are some of the stories published in recent months (each has a clickable link):
These articles make for fairly gruesome reading. So how did things go so wrong?
Let's start by taking a look at what we are actually seeing happening on the ground.
Firstly, I am careful to point out that there is migrant exploitation and there are immigration scams. These are not always one and the same as in some cases, the migrant may be complicit in the scam. In the majority of cases, however, the migrant has paid money thinking that is simply par for the course for getting a job in New Zealand or because they are desperate.
Secondly, it is not just the Accredited Employer Work Visa that is being used and abused. The Cyclone Recovery Work Visa has been a target due to being a soft touch visa. Most Advisers have avoided that visa unless there is a very clear case to be made for using it over more robust options. There are also Migrants on Visitor Visas lured by the promise of jobs that do not exist.
The most common scenario is:
An off-shore unlicensed agent takes anywhere between NZD10,000 and NZD40,000 (could be more) from a migrant worker in exchange for promises of a job & a future in NZ.
That agent then is either already hooked up with a New Zealand employer or sets about finding one.
Occasionally, a Licensed Immigration Adviser is also involved. They are either ignorant that a premium being paid is unlawful or complicit.
The employer is or gets Accredited & goes through the Job Check process, claiming "Job Tokens". High Volume Accreditation means there's no limit on how many Job Checks an employer can run. Once the Job Checks are in, the migrants can apply for work visas. Job Tokens have become a form of currency.
Typically the migrant has no or limited English and so an unlicensed 3rd party makes their visa application for them and... voilá. A 2 or 3-year Accredited Employer Work Visa lands like a gift from the Gods. The migrant arrives in New Zealand indebted to find the job was nothing more than a sham. Within a short time, they are let go without reason.
How are so many cases slipping through Immigration New Zealand's net?
Well, Immigration NZ denies there is anything much to see here - Stephanie Greathead, a senior Manager has gone on record stating:
In that same Article, it states:
INZ has identified 69 accredited employers of concern as part of its investigations, but refuses to say how many have been stood down.
This year, it has so far done post accreditation checks on 497 employers out of 23,744 accredited employers in the country and said all of those checked were compliant.
INZ aims to check 15 percent of all accredited employers each year.
INZ will not say how many of the 694 accredited employer-related complaints it has received as of May that are still active.
From what we are seeing on the ground, no matter what Immigration NZ may claim, the incidence of scams/exploitation has ballooned.
When the Accredited Employer policy came out last year (2022) we were all surprised to see some long-established requirements tossed out of the cart:
Accreditation can be applied for with zero documentation in most cases. It relies purely on a Declaration system that asks certain questions which, if answered "yes" triggers no request for anything;
Job Checks which is where an employer has to show that they have advertised and not found a suitable New Zealander (unless exempt) are also low document processes. Whereas under old policy we used to have to upload detailed explanations and evidence of who had applied and why they were not suitable or trainable, we now have to simply upload the advert and declare that there were no suitable New Zealanders. We were often asked in the past for organisational charts showing how the job fits within the business framework (to make sure e.g. that market rates are being met). Those days seem long gone;
It is now - unlike under the prior system - possible to stipulate that a job requires no experience and no qualification. I refer to these as "zero, zero" job checks. In the past, the employers would have needed to make some sort of argument that they were unable to find a trainable Kiwi. Those days are also gone.
We all soon realised that Immigration NZ was working to much lower standards than we were. Seeing the system this porous has been concerning and cause for many an exchange between professionals. It undermines all that we work for.
I should make clear at this point, that I am not asking for Immigration NZ to put clearly deserving cases through the wringer. What I am suggesting is that there be proper "triaging" to coin their own term. As things stand, the Accredited Employer Work Visa System is an open goal. The decision was a deliberate one as the only way, realistically, to roll out a whole new system with a whole new platform, combined with a lack of experienced staff, was to make it the system as dumbed down, automated and simple as possible. Our goalie was ordered to get out of the way. Our offshore branches in key spots (like India and China) had closed and although we have verification teams left, they are small and reliant on someone in NZ referring a case. Most cases don't get screened as a robot follows the ticked box. Immigration NZ changed its entire risk management approach. The repercussions are now flowing thick and fast.
The thing about the off-shore market is that it is always one step ahead and does not miss a trick. By early 2023, our reputation as a soft touch was getting plenty of exposure. These sorts of adverts were commonplace on YouTube: spot the misinformation (chocolate fish available!):
Now here comes the reality check. Clearly, we do want a system that for the right situation is a light touch. We want employers doing the right thing to be treated as such. We want a system that is truly intelligent. Right now we have artificial intelligence with results that are far from intelligent. It irks that a company with no online presence and corrupt directors can sail on through while others - schools, and reputable and well-established businesses sometimes wait longer to get the tick.
What does it mean for a New Zealand employer wanting to do the right thing?
Know that S.12A of the Wages & Protection Act states as follows:
It is legal for a candidate to pay a Licensed Immigration Adviser a fee to run their immigration application(s). A Licensed Immigration Adviser is bound by the Code of Conduct which states as follows:
A licensed immigration adviser must:
ensure that any fees charged are fair and reasonable in the circumstances
work in a manner that does not unnecessarily increase fees, and
inform the client of any additional fees, or changes to previously agreed fees, and ensure these are recorded and agreed to in writing.
Advice to Employers:
If a person approaches you offering a candidate for free, find out who that 3rd person is and where they fit into the picture. If that person is not a Licensed Adviser be very aware that they may well be charging a premium.
If you are dealing with a Licensed Adviser make sure you ask what their business model is. Google that adviser and look them up on the Register. Be sure only to deal with reputable advisers. It is entirely possible that the Adviser has charged a lawful fee to the candidate to prepare them for their migration journey to get them "Document Ready" and to support them whilst job searching, as well as to run their visas. There is nothing at all wrong with that model provided the fee charged is fair and reasonable and does not constitute a "premium". Unless the worker is from the Philippines, where the government has legislated additional protections, ensuring an employer-pays-all model.
If the Immigration Adviser is sourcing candidates through a 3rd party that should be transparent and so you can ask that question. You are entitled to know whether the candidate has paid a fee over and above the immigration consultancy fees which could well be considered a "premium" if outside the bounds of what the consultancy fees should be. If the model is unclear or lacks transparency, avoid. If you do not, you could find yourselves taking on a worker who is arriving stressed and in debt from the outset. Not a good way to begin an employment relationship with a migrant worker. Worse still, you yourself could be implicated in an unlawful practice and even if unintentional, an investigation could well ensue.
Here at Into NZ, you can expect a totally transparent practice when connecting migrants with employers. We not only work to stringent legal standards, but we also have a moral compass. We do not want migrants arriving in New Zealand having been duped and then being in distress.
If you want to do things the right way, contact us today! My Team and I are on hand to assist and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.