Amnesty offer for exploited students


Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has issued an amnesty of sorts to international students who dob in exploitative employers, saying the students won't face criminal charges or sanctions.

However, the offer doesn't extend to help with keeping visas.

It comes after revelations that one in 10 working international students are being paid below the minimium wage

Mr Woodhouse understands those students might be scared they've breached their visa conditions so he has told officials not to punish them if they come forward. 

"There is an element of this where there could be a concept of willing victim where they have actually participated in a transaction knowing it's in breach of their visa conditions," he says.

"I'm sympathetic to that situation - I think people should speak up anyway. Our target would be the exploitative employer not the student.  

"I've already directed immigration officials not to penalise people for speaking up."

Mr Woodhouse emphasises that doesn't necessarily mean students would be allowed to keep their student visa - it was more of an offer of a blind eye turned to the victim's part in criminal work conditions.

"So they wouldn't get favour in terms of their visa situation, but they wouldn't be punished for something that they themselves may have been in breach of," he says.

New Zealand First's Ron Mark says the minister is dreaming.

"Mr Woodhouse is an idiot," he says. "Does he seriously believe that many of these young immigrants these young people here on student visas understand their rights? 

"Did someone meet them when they came in the airport and say, 'Oh, I know you've got a work visa, here are all your rights?'."

And he didn't stop there. 

"Does he actually believe that they can all speak English clearly? That they all understand exactly who they should go to?"

The New Zealand First deputy leader raised a case of a student worker who was asked to pay an employer $30,000 to secure a job.

Mr Woodhouse said that was at the "upper end of the scale" but he hears horror stories too, and they need victims to bring it to the attention of authorities.

"It's really difficult to act on hearsay," he says.

Labour leader Andrew Little says the Government should have acted sooner. 

"What's happening is a lot of the students are coming here, they've got into a huge amount of debt to get here and they are forced into situations where they are working for below the minimum wage many working over the allocated 20 hours a week they've got.

"This is doing nothing for our reputation," he says.

"We know this is happening [and] the ministers know it is happening - and they're doing nothing about it."

But Mr Mark also had Labour in his sights, targeting Mr Little for jumping into New Zealand First's immigration debate too late. 

"I think that what is tragic is that when we've tried to raise questions in the house months ago about this very issue, the Government was dismissive and accuses us of being racist, and Labour just hung their head and looked the other way and said, 'Well there's that xenophobic party'.

"It's not good just yelling at NZ First and calling us a bunch of damn racists every time we raise these issues - this actually is the responsibility of the Government, of every minister, of every MP."

Employers who breach employment law could face penalties of up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for companies.