Govt launches probe on migrant workers left to live in 'unsanitary' conditions

Investigation also ordered on the Accredited Employment Work Visa scheme

Govt launches probe on migrant workers left to live in 'unsanitary' conditions

The government is now investigating the case of Indian and Bangladeshi nationals who were left to live in unsanitary conditions in Auckland after they were brought to the country on Accredited Employment Work Visas (AEWV).

The Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) revealed on Thursday that investigators are speaking to the 115 Indian and Balgadeshi nationals, as well as a number of witnesses, to build a complete picture of the case.

According to the foreign workers, they were asked to pay for a "substantial amount" for the visa and a job before they were brought to New Zealand with the promise of employment when they arrived.

Most of them, however, revealed that they are still waiting for any paid work, according to the MBIE.

"Some individuals have been in New Zealand for several months and some have more recently arrived," the ministry said in a media release. "These individuals were accommodated in properties that were not fit to house so many people. The conditions of the accommodation were unhygienic, unsanitary, and inappropriate."

The government said they are connecting them with local agencies that can provide care and support. The Indian High Commission has also been engaged to provide support to their nationals.

"MBIE is working with the individuals to help them understand their options. This may include applying for a Migrant Exploitation Work Visa, obtaining employment with a new employer, or making suitable arrangements to leave," the ministry said.

According to the ministry, they are investigating the employers who brought the individuals to New Zealand, adding that there are "several people and companies of interest pertaining to this case."

It remained mum, however, on releasing further details to avoid potentially jeopardising the outcomes of the investigation or subsequent prosecutions.

The investigation was launched after a recent Newshub report that revealed 40 men crammed into a "filthy, overcrowded three-bedroom home" in Auckland for months.

Review on the AEWV scheme

Meanwhile, Immigration Minister Andrew Little also ordered on Thursday the Public Service Commission to determine if the AEWV scheme was being administered properly.

"It is critical that New Zealanders have trust and confidence in the scheme and it's administration," Little said as quoted by Stuff.

His instruction follows a letter he received from a whistle-blower who alleged that "some checks on employers were not being made, and some checks as part of the job process were not being made."

The MBIE, which includes Immigration NZ, said it is supportive of the review.

"The outcome of this review will allow us to further refine the AEWV and inform settings to better respond to emerging issues. While the review is being carried out, we will continue our work, including the processing of applications and responding to cases of migrant exploitation as a priority," the MBIE said in a statement.

The AEWV was launched last year as part of New Zealand's reopening scheme following the COVID-19 border closures.

The MBIE said it is a temporary work visa category meant to improve the government's ability to detect and respond to exploitation.

"We have a new system of post-accreditation checks throughout the accreditation period and the ability to suspend or revoke an employer's accreditation if breaches of accreditation standards are found," the MBIE said.

The ministry assured that it is monitoring compliance and will address concerns.

"The vast majority of employers are doing the right thing and treat their migrant workers fairly and well. They are relying on much-needed workers from overseas to fill positions that have been hard to fill within the domestic market," it said.

A total of 80,576 Accredited Employer Work Visas have been approved as of August 14, 2023, with a total of 27,892 accredited employers.

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