Labour investigating whether scheme broke visa laws

Labour can't yet say if its botched intern scheme has broken immigration laws.

On Thursday it was reported 85 overseas students brought in to learn about the political process and help Labour's election campaign, without pay, were living in substandard conditions on a marae.

Organiser Matt McCarten, who until recently was employed by Labour, has now stepped aside, saying the scheme was "extremely popular and quickly became oversubscribed".

Labour general secretary Andrew Kirton has flown up to Auckland to clean up the mess.

"My focus today is to sort out these young volunteers, get them onto campaigns around the country or facilitate their route back home," he told The AM Show on Friday morning.

"We're moving forward - we're taking them out, moving them around the country so they can do what they came over here to do, which is campaign."

He denied claims the scheme was a "sweat shop filled with immigrant labour", as ACT leader David Seymour put it.

"The marae is pretty good, the facilities are pretty good - there just was a capacity issue... I wouldn't characterise marae living as a slum at all."

Mr Kirton's view of the conditions appears to have been backed up by one of the students at the marae, who told NZME on Thursday night the claims were "not true at all". The student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said "one or two" of the interns were behind the whole fracas, and the rest were happy.

"These are a great, energetic and talented young people," said Mr Kirton. "They're a bit confused and frustrated about what they've seen in the media."

He did admit however some wanted to go home, and Labour was "facilitating that".

He said the students had been told to get working holiday visas, but was unsure if the scheme was in breach of immigration or labour laws.

"I'm still getting to the bottom of that… we're right in the middle of that now."

Labour deputy leader Jacinda Ardern is also unsure of the students' legal status.

I wouldn't know enough about the explicit rules around someone who's here on a short-term voluntary basis. I wouldn't have thought so… we've got to be absolutely sure," she told The AM Show.

Ms Ardern was set to deliver a lecture, according to the scheme's outline, which was news to her.

"I did not know I was on the promotional material."

Union funding

Documents leaked to Newshub show the party sought $270,000 from its union backers to fund the scheme. Mr Kirton declined to comment on this report. He also declined to comment on whether the controversy, coming the same week Labour should have had an easy ride amidst the Todd Barclay scandal, would hurt the party.

"I'm not really interested in the politics."

Labour leader Andrew Little admitted on Thursday it was a bad look for the party.

"Somebody had an idea earlier this year that we could get some people down here from other parts of the world. It looks to me like it's gotten wildly out of control and people have found they can't manage it".

Labour has promised to crack down on student visas and immigration if it wins the election.