Immigration: Complaints about migrant exploitation increase sixfold under Labour

Newshub can reveal the number of complaints about migrant exploitation have increased more than sixfold in the last five years.

It comes as pressure mounts on the Government to remove the immigration rule that binds workers to one specific employer.

A migrant worker Newshub spoke to was sold the Kiwi dream to be a chef.

"He treat like a slave, I am not a slave (sic)," he told Newshub. 

His restaurant boss had been approved by the Government.

It was hell, he was trapped.

"Never I'm going to outside, in the building, on the building, I am just living in a small room," he said. 

He was being paid the $30 an hour required to meet the migrant work visa rules but said his boss would go with him to an ATM and force him to give him most of his wages back.

The Migrant Workers Association had to rescue him.

"Not a day goes by when we don't hear from an exploited worker," said Anu Kaloti.

Migrant workers have taken to the streets to protest the explosion in migrant exploitation, and Newshub can reveal just how bad it's become.

Five years ago, there were 150 complaints made about migrant exploitation.

In 2021, a new helpline and web complaint tool was launched.

That year exploitation complaints leapt to 908 and there were 905 last year. That's more than two a day.

"Migrant worker exploitation has never been okay, I think it's more visible now than it's been in the past," said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

But also in that period, the Government launched its new work visa, attempting to weed out the bad eggs. 

Businesses can become accredited to employ overseas workers but a condition is the employees must stay working with that one employer. 

"It appears that this new visa - accredited employer work visa (AEWV) - has made the problem worse," said Kaloti.

"The fundamental problem is when we're attaching and bonding migrant workers to a single employer. We know that is the root cause."

The Government's already been warned by many - including Government advisors - that tying migrants to one employer would increase exploitation.

"Labour has been too focused on putting ambulances at the bottom of the cliff once exploitation happens," said the Greens' Ricardo Menéndez March. "We need to do more to prevent exploitation."

Hipkins said: "The visa was launched in order to avoid migrant worker exploitation. When we launched it we said we'd keep a close eye on it and keep it under review and we'll absolutely do that."

Immigration Minister Andrew Little told Newshub in a statement: "Since the AEWV scheme started INZ has approved more than 27,000 employer accreditations, more than 42,000 job checks, and more than 76,000 AEWVs covering hundreds of occupations."

Little pointed out that the complaints were not solely attributable to the Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV) scheme and said nearly half of all complaints are coming through the government's new reporting web tool. 

"The AEWV started when borders reopened in 2022, so the spike in complaints is not attributable to the AEWV."

Amelia Wade Analysis: 

The Government's claims that the explosion is because they've made it easier to complain simply doesn't wash.

Their new work visa was promised to prevent exploitation, but it appears to have done the opposite

That means Labour - the party of the worker - has overseen an explosion of migrant exploitation.