Migrant Exploitation Protection Work Visa

On the 1st of July this year, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) introduced a new visa category called the Migration Exploitation Protection Work Visa (MEV) to protect migrants against exploitation. Where applicants meet the criteria for this new visa, they may be granted a temporary visa for a duration of up to 6 months so that they can leave their current employment and seek for any other employer in New Zealand.

Goals of the New Temporary Visa Category

INZ introduced MEV as a part of a broader policy to enforce working condition standards and eliminate exploitation. INZ aims to achieve two goals through the introduction of the MEV.

First, INZ aims to encourage reporting on exploitations. Through research, INZ identified that migrants may have been discouraged from reporting exploitation due to the fear that there may be negative consequences on their visa status. Unlike the previous process where claimants had to wait for the results of an exploitation investigation on the alleged employer, the MEV scheme does not require the applicant to wait for the outcome – it allows migrants to make a visa application within 1 month of reporting. Where the applicant is successful, they may leave their current employment to seek any other employment in New Zealand.

Secondly, the MEV scheme aims to improve the exploitation reporting process. Previously, migrant employees were still able to report exploitation, but the process was not well known nor clear. The previous threshold requirement for exploitation was high. The assessment criteria were never disclosed to the public, naturally deterring migrants from lodging a report. Furthermore, claimants were unable to assess the likelihood of succeeding in an exploitation claim because the assessment of facts gathered from the investigation was conducted through the sole discretion of INZ. To combat this issue, the MEV scheme overhauled the reporting process. Employees may now make a direct claim through their preferred communication method.[1] Under the new scheme, INZ will rely on the information supplied by the migrant, seeking to confirm whether the complaints are genuine through a credibility assessment process. It must be noted here that if false or misleading information is provided, the complainant may be liable for prosecution and/or deportation.

Eligibility & Requirements

  • (i) The applicant must have a current and valid work visa.
    • At this point, it is uncertain whether ‘open’ work visas would be eligible or if only workers on employer-assisted visas will be eligible.[2]
  • (ii) The applicant must make an application within one month of filing an exploitation report.
  • (iii) There are no requirements of fees, medical certificates, or police certificates.
  • (iv) Dependent children and partners may be given a visa based on their relationship with the claimant. The visa duration will only be up to the visa duration of the MEV.

Issues

The introduction of the MEV category is an encouraging sign, indicating the New Zealand Government’s motivation to reduce and ultimately eliminate exploitation. Suppose the proposed goals are achieved through this scheme. In that case, migrants should expect greater transparency and better compliance to working condition standards at their current and future workplaces. However, the scheme is not without flaws.

Firstly, the credibility assessment process is unclear. Given that it will most likely be the sole discretion of INZ to determine whether the claimant’s complaints are genuine, claimants must be responsible for identifying instances of exploitation or exploitative practices as well as providing information clearly. Without clear guidance or assistance, migrant employees may feel at a disadvantage in filing a report due to their diverse backgrounds. Therefore, claimants may be at a risk of providing potentially false or misleading information inadvertently. At Immigration Chambers, we have encountered countless cases where applicants mistakenly withhold or provide false information due to a lack of legal knowledge during their application. In these cases, our clients most often make mistakes because they do not fully understand what is required of them, and the new reporting process may have the same problem.

It may be the best course of action to seek advice before lodging an exploitation claim against the employer to mitigate these risks. For anyone who is uncertain of whether your current circumstances amount to exploitation, we strongly recommend seeking consultation and advice.

The second issue is that the new MEV does not accommodate the financial reality of migrants. Although INZ expressed that a 6-month period should be sufficient time to seek new employment, migrant employees may not be as confident. At the end of the day, lodging a report may threaten sustained income until the claimant finds a new job. This may discourage migrant employees who are often faced with significant financial concerns. Also, where exploitation is perceived to be insignificant by the employee, they may simply choose to remain in employment instead of living through the stress and concerns of financial hardship for an unidentified period of unemployment. On top of this, migrants often come to New Zealand for compelling reasons, such as seeking a better life in a better county. Their chief priority tends to be to remain in New Zealand. If migrants feel that the new scheme does not provide enough of a guarantee for prolonged stay here, they may choose not to place themselves at risk of failing to find new employment. On the other hand, the exemption of visa application fees and documents appear to be relatively unimpactful incentives.

For these reasons, it is difficult to estimate whether the new MEV scheme would really encourage reporting on exploitation without financial incentives for potential claimants.

For more information, contact us for consultation and advice. In addition, if you want to learn more about exploitation in the workplace, visit: https://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/policy-and-law/integrity-of-the-immigration-system/migrant-exploitation.


[1] https://reportmigrantexploitation.employment.govt.nz/

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