Temporary work visa changes must include more open visas

An OIA and a survey conducted by Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG) and the Indian Workers Association (IWA) shows the proposed immigration changes need to allow all temporary work visa holders to become more open work visas if we are to reduce the exploitation of migrant workers in New Zealand and to lift wages for all.

UNEMIG and the IWA have obtained information under the Official Information Act that shows within three months over 5,000 applicants applied to have their Employer Assisted visas made open. Working visas that are more open allow workers to move between employers which allows them to speak out and to change their employer if they are being mistreated. What UNEMIG and the IWA propose is that temporary work visas become more open by attaching migrant visas to a particular region or to a particular skill rather than to an employer at a specific location.

The organisations also conducted a survey that found 650 out of 1000 respondents agreed they had been exploited due to the inability to exercise their rights because their visa was attached to a single employer at that location of work.

Coordinator Mandeep Bela says both the OIA and survey support the need for open visas to be more accessible to those on temporary work visas.

“The OIA shows more open visas are in high demand and are greatly needed, the overwhelming majority of migrant workers we work with who are exploited by their employers have their visa attached to their employer at that location of work.”

“Further, our survey suggests that a majority of workers on the Essential skills visa feel they have been exploited because they could not move from their employer at that location of work. We desperately need visas to be more open so these workers can take their work elsewhere if their employer is treating them badly.”

Mr Bela says the number of applications shows just how desperately more open visas are needed.

“That’s a massive number of applications given the cost and time involved in the process so this should signal just how much people need this. We consider attaching the visa to a particular employer and location of work as bonded labour. Many migrants feel scared to come forward because our immigration settings have given employers more power over migrant workers. Migrants run the risk of losing their employment and visa to live and work in this country if they try to exercise their rights or speak out about the exploitation they are experiencing. Such employers also often commit immigration and tax fraud as well. These rogue employers undermine good employers and drive down wages and conditions of local workers as well. Nobody wants this happening in Aotearoa.”

He says the current proposal on new immigration changes needs to include removal of visa attachment to a particular employer at that location of work.

“Many migrant workers feel free and safe when they receive a work visa that frees them up to work with other employers who recognise their skills and pay them fairly. This needs to be further extended to other types of temporary work visas so migrants have a freedom to work with dignity and to be able to exercise their employment rights.  What we propose is that there are other ways to address the skill and labour shortage in the regions by attaching migrant visas to a particular region or to a particular skill they hold rather than to a particular employer and a location of work which will significantly reduce exploitation and genuinely result in lifting wages and weeding out rogue employers’ reliance on migrant workers.”