Immigration Minister Erica Stanford says not a priority to change visa children were allegedly exploited under

The Immigration Minister says it's not a priority to make changes to an entertainment work visa children were allegedly exploited under.

An investigation into child exploitation allegations at Zirka Circus, revealed by Newshub in 2022, resulted in kids being returned to China.

But Immigration Minister Erica Stanford said it was an isolated incident.

It was alleged six children from the circus were living in squalid conditions.

They were returned to China after authorities got involved.

It prompted the then-Labour Government to request advice on whether enough care was given to children working under the entertainers' work visa.

However, no changes have been made.

"It will be something that needs to change but... migrant exploitation is at such a high level with the Employer Accredited Work Visa - I have got to priortise," Stanford said. "There was one isolated incident in a very, very small visa category.

"There haven't been any changes under the previous Government and it's not come across my desk."

Erica Stanford.
Erica Stanford. Photo credit: File

Newshub can reveal children have continued to enter on the visa since the Zirka allegations surfaced. Between January 2023 and March this year, 93 children under the age of 18 received a work visa.

Thirteen were on the entertainment work visa. Those who received a work visa were as young as 9-years-old.

Stanford said there's no current investigations underway but the Green Party wants the Government to act now to reduce the risk of exploitation.

"Successive Governments have enabled child labour in Aotearoa. Erica Stanford needs to immediately step in and end the current practice that leaves minors at risk of exploitation," Greens immigration spokesperson Ricardo Menéndez March said.

It took questions from Newshub for Stanford to get a briefing.

"I have a really busy work programme," she said. "It's something I have just asked for some advice on and received some notes from since your request, so I understand the details."

Menéndez March, meanwhile, is urging the Government to "do an overhaul of that visa to guarantee that no child is coming to Aotearoa being left at risk of exploitation".

Immigration New Zealand said in a statement it took "great care" when assessing entertainers' work visas involving children under 18 and none of these "approved since 2010 have been cancelled as a result of exploitation of minors, apart from those linked to Phoenix Entertainment Ltd (Zirka Circus)".

"It is important to note that none of the 13 children under 18 approved an entertainment work visa between January 1, 2023 and March 7, 2024, have involved work for Zirka Circus. Most of the children work as dancers or actors in movies or television," Immigration policy manager Polly Vowles said.

"MBIE (business ministry) is working with the minister to finalise the work programme for the term, including whether to review the settings around work rights for children.

"We will have more to say in due course.

"Any decision to change policy or visa settings is a matter for the Government."