Issue 353 September 1, 2016
Our front page story in this issue has the potential to make you angry – either at Immigration New Zealand (INZ) or at employers who depend on migrant labour to conduct their business.
There are then political parties such as Labour, Greens and New Zealand First, who believe that immigration must be kept under check and that we have the right to choose the type of migrants we need and not the other way around.
The ruling National Party and its allies, supported by mainstream media, are of the view that we should allow more migrants so that the economy can continue to grow.
Some sections of the media say that migrant labourers who are victimised must go to the authorities and complain and that the government should deport the erring employers if they are migrants themselves.
No one of course asks the question, “Since most of these employers are New Zealand citizens, how can you deport them?’ or ‘A few education agents or advisors make false promises to students that they can secure jobs and permanent residence as soon as they arrive in New Zealand. Who is supervising such people?”
From whichever standpoint you may view, the issue rests on sticky thorns.
Reports of migrants being overworked and underpaid – not just by owners of restaurants but also by other retailers, manufacturers and others – are heard, read and seen from time to time. Again, these are not confined to the Indian community.
Exploitation of workers has always existed, and will continue to exist, so long as victims willingly submit themselves to such exploitation. There is little that anyone can do if these people – migrant workers, students and even overstayers, remain silent for fear of reprisal and even deportation.
There are processes within the government, law-enforcing authorities, through the Human Rights Commission, Indian associations and groups and also this newspaper – processes that can bring justice to the victims and ensure that perpetrators are punished according to the law.
But the issue that we have raised on our front page relates to exploitation of another kind- if indeed such exploitation exists.
It is the allegation of ‘exploitation’ by a government agency – INZ – of a business community that, according to those affected, has been targeted for ‘exclusion.’
Too long to bear
Several restaurant owners have told us during the past months that the applications of potential workers have been pending with INZ for nine or more months for no rhyme or reason.
“It should not take a government department this long to decide on work visa applications. If this government wants small businesses to thrive, they should then ensure that such discrimination does not exist. Let INZ decline these applications but should give us valid reasons for doing so,” they said.
This newspaper is aware of at least three Indians who came to New Zealand on ‘Work to Residence Visa’ (another undesirable way of granting permits) had to wait for two years before their work permits could be issued despite submitting genuine job offers and all other documents. Two of them returned home highly frustrated, while the third man managed to obtain permanent residence after a long struggle.
According to Martin Ruhs of Oxford University, countries with more rights for migrant workers tend to be less keen on admitting new ones.
In the Arab Gulf States and Singapore, where migrants have few rights on paper, the foreign workforce is huge: 94% of workers in Qatar were born abroad. Sweden and Norway, where migrants can use public services, claim welfare benefits and bring in dependents, admit relatively few purely economic migrants.
There is a vigorous—and sometimes ill-tempered—debate among academics about the impact of low-skilled migration, both legal and illegal, on wages.
This dispute, however, is only part of a much broader debate. Most other research finds that immigrant flows harm at least some workers, as economic theory usually predicts they should when immigration changes the balance of skills in an economy. The debate is over precisely who suffers, and how much.
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