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Employee Rights embrace all workers

I want to make it absolutely clear that I will not tolerate any exploitation of migrants.

Migrant workers with similar skills and experience to their New Zealand counterparts should be getting the same pay for doing the same job.

The overriding principle is that migrant workers have the same employment rights and protections as all other workers in New Zealand.

We have already taken firm and decisive action to address the issue so that migrants who report genuine incidents of serious workplace exploitation will be allowed to remain in New Zealand until they apply for a visa.

Offenders punished

I introduced a Bill last year that imposes tough penalties on employers who exploit migrant workers that are legally entitled to work here.

I am confident that the penalties contained in the Bill will act as a strong deterrent – the maximum penalty is a jail sentence of up to seven years, a fine not exceeding $100,000, or both. In addition, migrant employers could also face deportation if the offence was committed within 10 years of gaining residence. The Bill is a crucial measure not only to protect migrants but also prevent unscrupulous employers gaining an unfair competitive advantage over good employers playing by the rules.

I am confident that the Bill will pass in the new Parliament.

Skilled migrants up

There has been a great deal of media focus on recent figures showing that there was a net gain of more than 38,000 migrants in the last financial year – the highest annual gain since the October 2003 year.

In addition, there were increases in the number of migrants coming to New Zealand to live, work, study and visit in the year to the end of June.

It is particularly pleasing that the number of people approved residence through the Skilled Migrant Category went up by 12% to more than 20,000.

The number of Essential Skills workers approved work visas has gone up by 18% the second consecutive annual increase since the start of the global economic slowdown.

It is also very encouraging that despite the intense global competition there was a 15% increase in the total number of international students approved to study here.

Against a backdrop of the economy growing by 3.8% in the year to March, I view these figures as vindication of the Government’s policies in encouraging New Zealanders to stay here or return home and attracting skilled migrants to come here.

I would be the first to acknowledge that one of the main reasons for the turnaround in the figures is that fewer New Zealanders are going to Australia. But we have also been extremely successful in attracting new migrants to New Zealand.

New initiatives

We have not rested on our laurels and we have never hesitated to review and change policies to ensure they are still fit for purpose. Much needed business visa changes came into effect in March this year and in my view they will be a great success.

The new Entrepreneur Work Visa will result in higher quality, more productive businesses than was the case with the Long-Term Business Visa.

I make no excuse for raising the bar and implementing changes that are designed to attract even more talented, enterprising, well-connected business people to invest and grow businesses in this country. The minimum capital investment of $100,000 needed for the Entrepreneur Work Visa will ensure applicants have the means to create high growth and innovative businesses.

But one of the most important features of the new policy is the incentive to invest in the regions with extra points being offered for new businesses setting up outside Auckland.

Review of the Immigration Advisers Licensing Act 2007 is still fit for purpose in terms of regulating the provision of immigration advice to promote and protect the interests of consumers, and to enhance the reputation of New Zealand as a migration destination.

Michael Woodhouse is Immigration Minister of New Zealand. The above is an extra of his address at the annual Conference of the New Zealand Association of Migration & Investment held at Auckland’s Eden Park on August 30, 2014

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