Migrant group horrified by ‘ruthless’ changes to visa scheme

A group representing migrant workers has described changes to visa rules as “heart-wrenching” as well as “ruthless and insensitive”.

The government earlier this week said people holding an Accredited Employer Visa (AEWV) at Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) levels 4 and 5 without a pathway to residency were no longer able to support work, visitor or student visa applications for partners and dependent children.

Levels 4 and 5 cover workers with qualifications equivalent to NCEA levels 1, 2 or 3.

“The government has made this change to align with the broader suite of changes to the AEWV scheme earlier this year, and returns the settings to similar ones under the previous Essential Skills Work Visa,” Immigration NZ said in a release.

Immigration Minister Erica Stanford said in February that changes to the AEWV scheme were needed urgently to get “the balance right between the highly skilled workers that we need, and making sure that we’re able to have the absorptive capacity in New Zealand to make sure that we can actually have the infrastructure and the housing, healthcare and education services we need to make sure that we can look after everybody”.

Those with an application already in for partners or children would not be affected by the changes.

But the Union Network of Migrants, a division of FIRST Union, said it was an “abrupt and insensitive immigration policy change with no consultation from stakeholders, community groups and migrant advocates”.

“Since this Government took office, Erica Stanford has failed to engage in good faith with community groups and migrant workers as immigration minister regarding her unexpected changes to immigration policy, which is a major disappointment following productive engagement with the last government,” coordinator Mikee Santos said.

“Any migrant worker will agree that abrupt immigration changes will not only be costly, but heart-wrenching, as migrants plan their work and lives based on current immigration policy and create a long-term plan for them and for their partners and children.

“This sudden change is pulling the rug from underneath their feet, and the fall to the ground will be painful.”

Santos said politicians loved migrant labour when New Zealand needed it most, “but now we’ve moved into an austerity period under the new government, they are turning their backs on migrant workers and giving them no chance to have a say about their futures”.

A Public Service Commission review of the AEWV scheme found it had led to migrants being able to buy jobs, but they would be exploited when they arrived.

Some workers were not getting paid, and ineligible employers were being granted accreditation.

The scheme brought in by the previous Labour government in 2022 after Covid-19 border closures led to a worker shortage had aimed to curb migrant exploitation, but Labour leader Chris Hipkins admitted on Morning Report in February its implementation meant it “actually had the reverse effect”.

The review was only set up after a whistleblower came forward with allegations that Immigration NZ was failing to carry out proper checks.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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