Nearly 200 illegal Malaysian workers have been deported or barred from the country after a sweep of 10 Auckland construction companies.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Spectrum, uncovered 15 people previously deported or fled had returned to the country under false identities, many of whom registered companies here, NZME reports.
Unlawful workers were then recruited, and paid between $20 and $40 an hour. But because they did not pay tax, the companies were able to charge less for their services, often giving them the upper hand over legitimate companies.
When Immigration New Zealand staff raided the sites of the illegal workers, many of them ran.
"We'd find people hiding in fire exits, stairwells, ceiling cavities," Alistair Murray, who manages investigations and compliance, told NZME.
Others fled the country before they were deported, and 85 were stopped at the border as they tried to enter the country. Some were caught off-guard at work when Immigration NZ visited and told them to leave.
A total of 190 illegal workers were identified within six months. Those 105 already in the country had been here, on average, for five years.