New Accredited Employer Work Visa Category – Protecting Migrant Workers from Exploitation and Encouraging Good Employers

Migrant worker exploitation is an ongoing significant concern for the New Zealand Government. That’s why the new accreditation and work visa changes incorporate better protection for New Zealand’s valued migrant workforce and aids employers to have better employment practices. Read on to learn more.

The new Immigration New Zealand (INZ) 3-check system will help combat migrant exploitation by strengthening requirements on employers and in-part encourage employers to focus on ways to train and up skill New Zealanders in order to reduce the risks associated with New Zealand’s reliance on lower paid vulnerable temporary workers particularly

Migrants can be reluctant to come forward to report exploitative practices by employers. This is particularly the case where they are working when they are not entitled to because they do not hold a visa that allows them to work.

Employers need to know that the exploitation of migrants, including human trafficking for this purpose, and supporting those who are working unlawfully, is covered under the Immigration Act 2009 and carries significant penalties. Any person convicted of an offence against this section is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years, a fine not exceeding $100,000, or both.

Employment related factions of the Government’s Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment and Immigration New Zealand have developed an approach to assure migrants that they will not be disadvantaged by coming forward to relevant agencies with any genuine claims of workplace exploitation.

Signs a person may be in an exploitative situation might include:

  • withholding an employee’s passport, travel documents or money
  • forcing an employee to work long hours, with no time off and no overtime payments
  • underpayment (or non-payment) of wages
  • deductions from wages e.g. to pay off debt, or a job “premium”
  • threats of violence, jail or deportation

An employer commits an offence if they exploit any unlawful or temporary worker. This may include:

  • temporary work visa holders (regardless of whether the employer is
    named on the visa label)
  • student visa holders with work rights who are working for more than 20
    hours per week
  • student visa holders with no work rights
  • visitor visa holders
  • people whose visa to remain in New Zealand has expired and who
    remain unlawfully

There are many avenues for reporting suspected exploitation to encourage a wide range of preferences, ranging from contacting Police, INZ or Labour Inspectorate through to community groups.

INZ take a principles based approach when dealing with allegations, giving fairness, anonymity, consistency as well as victims rights legal principles of courtesy, compassion, dignity and privacy assurances, with an overall focus on the behaviour of employers rather than migrant workers impacted. Visa (or non-visa) matters are considered by INZ on a case by case basis with a wide range of solutions considered in proven genuine cases.

The key messages the Government is sending to affected migrants and those that know of possible exploitation of a migrant(s) is not to be afraid to ask for help, encouraging employers to do good by their workers and warnings for traffickers of serious consequences for such behaviour.

How the New Accredited Employer System Combats Migrant Exploitation

The new system introduces requirements to be met upon initial application which minimises the risk of migrant exploitation, with review upon subsequent applications.

For Standard Accreditation, which all levels of accreditation are required to be met, the criteria requires all employers, including triangular and franchisees, to have their business registered with Inland Revenue and hold a New Zealand Business Number, have a good recent history of regulatory compliance with employment standards and immigration laws, be required to complete employment modules (online via INZ), provide migrant workers with advice on worker rights during initial recruitment phase, allow time for migrant workers to complete online employment rights modules during work hours and pay costs associated with recruitment and items needed to undertake the role. All employers must also provide workers with work-related settlement information (eg. how to get an IRD number, opportunities for up skilling, local relevant services to aid in settlement).

High-volume accreditation’s additional criteria includes the employer demonstrating a commitment to improving pay and conditions for all employees over time through either meeting a minimum pay requirement of 10 percent above the defined minimum wage or be covered by a collective employment agreement. It is also likely an employer needs to demonstrate a commitment to training and up skilling New Zealanders employed.

Additional criteria applies to employers such as franchisees, third party employers like parent or umbrella companies and labour hire companies with closer scrutiny being applied by INZ. This varies depending on the nature of the arrangement. This encompasses aspects such as length of business operation and having a history of hiring New Zealand workers with a percentage of their workforce made up of New Zealanders.

Accreditation will not be approved if the “key person” in the company has employment compliance issues, and if this occurred in past but they are no longer on the non-compliance regulatory stand-down list, they will be assessed closely by INZ. Phoenix companies established as a new entity clearly set-up to avoid accreditation being declined will not be approved due to the risk of dubious migrant employment practices being used.

Employers must not seek fees from a migrant worker in order for them to secure their job, offer bond agreements for unlawful purposes and make deductions from wages not agreed to in writing.

To minimise time and cost for employers, INZ will assess the information required as outlined above based on application declarations made and automated checks against publically available and Ministry-held information.

This Government hopes this new system will deter employers with poor migrant worker care practices and provide migrant workers with protective measures to support their time employed in New Zealand.

How Can Professional Visa Solutions Help?

For employers, we can aid in setting-up your business to accommodate INZ compliance requirements now, so you are well-placed to seek accreditation when the time comes. If you have had immigration or employment issues at any time, discuss the matter with us to gain the best advice on what you need to do to meet requirements.

For migrants, we offer paid and absolutely confidential advice if you or someone you know has possible exploitation matters. We can take the worry out of the situation.

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