A man accused by dozens of Chinese construction workers of misleading them with promises of well-paid jobs in New Zealand has left the country.
RNZ can reveal a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Li Wenshan - also known as Peter Li. Two other people associated with Li are charged with immigration fraud and are due to appear in court in early July.
Mao Qunyou was one of the Chinese workers who claimed New Zealand-based labour hire agent Peter Li misled them. He said he has been waiting for years for progress on his case.
Mao arrived to work in New Zealand as a bricklayer in 2017 after paying Li almost $60,000, but he said the money he made was far less than what Li had promised.
Mao said he referred Li to immigration authorities in 2018 but he has hardly had any updates. He said he feels so pressured and troubled that his hair has been turning grey.
"I don't understand why the New Zealand legal system is like this. There's barely any news. I just have to wait and wait."
Mao has chosen to stay in New Zealand to assist with any investigations, although that means he will have to stay apart from his wife and only daughter in China.
"I will only go home when my case is resolved, which means he should give back the fees I paid and also compensate for my loss. When the case is resolved and I can get part of the money back, then I can go back. Now nothing has been resolved, how can I just head back?"
Mao is anticipating the court appearance of two men charged with immigration fraud in relation to the case. He has been granted interim or work visas, and hopes that one day he can stay here permanently.
"My work experience is all true. I said that New Zealand needs experienced workers. So I'm wondering whether people like me - would there be any consideration that people like me can stay in New Zealand long-term?"
Immigration New Zealand told RNZ one man is facing two charges of supplying false or misleading information to an immigration officer.
The other faces a charge of supplying false or misleading information to an immigration officer and two charges of aiding and abetting the first man.
Immigration suspect the two supplied false details of job offers and contracts for 21 foreign workers in applications to vary their visa conditions. It said both defendants have pleaded not guilty and elected trial by jury.
Let them stay - union advocate
An advocate from Unite Union, Mike Treen, welcomed the development. He said exploited migrant workers should be given a reprieve and allowed to stay in New Zealand.
"We need them in the construction industry, we can't replace them. Give them an amnesty and get their stories and prosecute those who have participated in their exploitation."
Treen said the case has probably taken so long because immigration officers have to collect a lot of information.
He also said there are systems of exploitation in China where people pay high fees to get a work visa for New Zealand, and when the workers discover they can't earn as much as promised, they are sometimes forced to overstay and work.
He said it's always the workers who are punished as they are often sent back home when immigration officials find out about them.
Treen said some migrant workers with visas tied to particular employers find it hard to speak up about exploitation.
"If they want to renew their visas, they can't annoy their particular employer which means essentially they can't stand up for their rights. They're in a very vulnerable position and unfortunately, too many employers are willing to take advantage of that vulnerable position."
The hearing for the two men charged with immigration fraud has been scheduled for early July.
Efforts to contact Li - who has previously denied any wrongdoing - were unsuccessful.