Immigration NZ 'should have done more' to reduce abuse risk in AEWV scheme

New report says changes under visa scheme escalated exploitation risks for migrant workers

Immigration NZ 'should have done more' to reduce abuse risk in AEWV scheme

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) "should have done more" to minimise the risk of abuse to the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) scheme, according to a review on the programme.

The review, which was released by the Public Service Commission, found that the changes under the AEWV scheme did not work as intended.

"Immigration New Zealand implemented, very quickly, a new model to accelerate immigration at a time the country desperately needed skilled workers," said Deputy Public Service Commissioner Heather Baggott in a statement.

"While it was unscrupulous employers who exploited migrants coming into the country, Immigration New Zealand could have, and should have, done more to minimise the risk of that happening."

Lapses of the AEWV scheme

The AEWV scheme was introduced in 2022 by the New Zealand government to address the growing demand for migrant labour by employers. It reduced the required number of checks by immigration officers in order to maintain processing times.

The review, which was led by Jenn Bestwick, found that INZ did not "adequately assess the risk and impact" of this change against the greater risk of visa system abuse.

"The focus on meeting visa processing timeframes and volumes overrode risk considerations," the review said.

And when INZ staff raised concerns about the risk, leadership at the agency did not pay adequate attention, according to the review.

The review has made 10 recommendations to improve the AEWV scheme, which include reducing the risk of migrant exploitation and developing an integrated compliance and system monitoring model.

The review also called for an improvement in intelligence gathering and resetting the relationship between INZ's senior leaders and frontline staff.

MBIE accepts findings, recommendations

The chief executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE), where INZ falls under, accepted the findings of the review.

Carolyn Tremain, MBIE chief executive, said a "relatively small portion of bad actors" will always find and exploit the weakness in the immigration systems.

Tremain also recognised that their employees play an important role in the immigration system, and encouraged those who have an issue about the scheme's integrity should report it to them.

"If they are not comfortable doing so to their manager, then to any of the leadership team or to the MBIE Integrity line," the chief executive said in a statement.

"I know Immigration New Zealand is working hard to improve staff communications and engagement and the latest survey of staff shows progress is being made, but clearly there is further work to be done."

The review was carried out after an expose last year revealed that the various bad actors exploited the system visa scheme between July 2022 and June 2023.

Tremain said their probe over the scandal has led to the revocation of accreditation of 145 employers, as well as the suspension of 53 others.

Latest government figures show that there are nearly 33,000 accredited employers and more than 108,000 approved AEWV applications.

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