It is a great privilege to contribute this article to Indian Newslink.
The Indian market is an extremely important one and it is striking to see the increase in the number of Indians choosing New Zealand as their favoured destination.
In the last financial year, more than 20,000 work visas were issued to people from India – that is more than any other country. More than 5000 Indians became New Zealand residents, nearly 10,000 Indians were issued student visas and more than 35,000 Indians visited New Zealand.
As you know, Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has two offices in India – in New Delhi and Mumbai. I am very focused on ensuring that visa applications are processed as quickly and efficiently as possible while ensuring that any risks are managed.
Processing times have improved greatly and customer satisfaction with the service in India is the highest in the South Asia region.
But I am also keen to ensure that any mistakes are fixed and that customer complaints are acted upon.
You will know that INZ is currently reassessing a number of declined visa applications made by partners of work and student visa holders who want to join their partners in New Zealand (Indian Newslink, October 1, 2013). This follows the acceptance by INZ that 14 applications that were referred to the Ombudsman were not properly assessed as too much weight was placed on ensuring that customers had incentives to return home. INZ has rightly apologised for the error and I will be keeping a close eye on the situation to ensure that there is no repetition.
I also want to talk about the new Bill that I have introduced to Parliament. The proposed legislation will crack down on employers who exploit migrant workers working here lawfully on temporary visas.
Under the Immigration Amendment Bill, such employers will face a jail sentence of up to seven years, a fine not exceeding $100,000, or both.
Exploitative employers who hold residence visas will also be liable for deportation if the offence was committed within 10 years of gaining residence.
This provision is necessary because many of the serious cases appear to be where new migrants are employed by other migrants, probably due to the networks and opportunities and their knowledge of New Zealand systems and processes.
I know this is an issue of deep concern to members of the Indian community and rightly so. Exploitation of migrants is an abhorrent practice and I am determined to stamp it out.
The fundamental and overriding principle is that migrant workers have the same employment rights as all other workers in New Zealand. The penalties in the Bill reflect the seriousness of such offences and I am confident that they will act as a deterrent.
The Bill forms part of a package to address migrant exploitation and follows policy changes in June that encourage victims of exploitation to come forward without fear of being penalised. If migrants work with Immigration New Zealand and the Labour Inspectorate to investigate serious cases of exploitation, they may be eligible to remain in New Zealand while their complaint is looked at and resolved.
Exploitation occurs in many of our communities and hence I would urge you to use your contacts to encourage people to come forward and report any incidents.
Michael Woodhouse is Minister of Immigration. In this file photo taken at his office in Wellington he is seen with (from left) Ratilal Champaneri, Harshad Patel, Prakash Biradar and Bhikhu Bhana of the New Zealand Indian Central Association