The Immigration Minister has confirmed that more than 200 offshore migrants with visas tied to a handful of employers being investigated by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) have had their visas cancelled.
Five to six accredited employers who had about 400 visas issued to them, are being investigated in relation to the mistreatment of 115 Indian and Bangladeshi workers.
It has been two weeks since South Asian workers on accredited employer work visas (AEWV) were found living in crammed and unsanitary conditions across six houses in Auckland, and said they had had no income for months.
Immigration Minister Andrew Little confirmed on Wednesday that the 10 migrants stopped and turned around at the New Zealand border, and the 193 who had been told not to travel to New Zealand, had had their visas cancelled.
But INZ maintains that it has not cancelled these visas.
The minister said the visas were cancelled because the employers were being investigated and that it was "self evident" that the work was not there.
"It is about trying to mitigate a worse problem for them, if they arrive in the country and the job isn't there," he said.
Meanwhile, INZ said the minister was correct in saying that the 10 migrants turned around at the border had had their visas cancelled, but said it had not cancelled the visas of the 193 affected migrants offshore.
Its national manager border Peter Elms said in a statement:
"We have not cancelled any visas. For those offshore individuals, they have been advised not to travel at this time and we will be sending further updates to these individuals within the week which will outline options they may wish to consider.
"These individuals have border alerts so we can ensure they do not board a flight and come to New Zealand until such time as their employment has been verified," he said.
Elms also confirmed that INZ had not cancelled any accredited employer work visas of offshore migrants whose employers have had their accreditation revoked.
Meanwhile, an advocate told RNZ's Nine to Noon programme that these affected migrants should be given open work visas.
Migrant Workers Association president Anu Kaloti said the scammed migrants should not be punished.
"We don't agree with this action of turning people away at the border, since they have invested so much, and they are effectively being punished for something they have not done," she said.
She said the migrants should be given a chance to find work here through open visas, and that there were genuine employers who would offer them jobs if their visa conditions allowed it.
Kaloti said since the story of the 115 Indian and Bangladeshi workers broke, some employers said they could offer the migrants some work - however were unable to meet the accredited employer work visa conditions of median wage ($29.66 per an hour).
But employment law advocate May Moncur, who has also been representing scammed migrants on AEWVs, said she was glad that the government was taking steps to address the issue at the border.
Many migrants had fallen victim to the same agents or employers, and it would be helpful if INZ placed border alerts on all visas attached to employers that were being investigated, she said.
Employers and agents being complained about in Migrant Exploitation Protection Visa applications should raise a red flag for INZ, and that should translate to border alerts on the visas of those migrants yet to enter the country, Moncur said.