English defends immigration rules after suicide claim

11:56 am on 19 September 2017

National Party leader Bill English has defended changes to immigration rules after Indian community groups said they were contributing to depression and suicide attempts among foreign students.

Bill English speaks after hearing Peter Dunne would step down after the election.

Bill English said the National government had modified the rules after consultation. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

An Indian migrant told RNZ's Voices programme the rule changes, combined with exploitation by an employer, contributed to a friend killing herself this year.

Under the new rules, those doing what is considered lower-skilled work have to leave after three years and spend 12 months outside New Zealand before they can get a visa for another low-skilled role. Any migrant earning below $41,538 a year is considered to be in a lower-skilled category.

Mr English said the rules were carefully thought out.

"Some people do find that the criteria are a bit tight, but that's a result of a lot of discussion with industry, we modified the proposals, because at the core of it is the growing economy that's creating the jobs that we need people to come in to do."

Mr English said it was a tragedy for anyone to take their own life.

Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern said her party would do more to protect migrant workers from exploitation.

Ms Ardern said the party had been concerned for some time about foreign students on work visas running into trouble.

"I've had individuals in my office sharing similar stories, and there's a reason I think we see such a large number of cases involving migrant workers coming before our Labour Inspectorate - we do need to do more to protect them."

Ms Ardern said the Labour Inspectorate needed to be strengthened.

Advocacy groups say something needs to be done, no matter who is in government.

Migrant Workers Association spokesperson Anu Kaloti said she was aware of several cases where students or former students, faced with exploitation and being unable to gain residence, had taken their own lives.

"The students that we come into contact with, a big majority of them are depressed, they have no hope and then the fear of if they speak out and voice their concerns about their situation, and the whole shame and stigma attached to the whole thing," she said.

"If things don't change, if the government policy doesn't actually deliver some positive outcomes for these temporary visa holders, unfortunately we will see an increase in such cases."

Ms Kaloti said visas should not be attached to employment or an employer and migrant workers on temporary visas should be able to change their job without losing their visa.

More assurances should be given to a worker if they reported being exploited.

"Immigration New Zealand needs to provide them full protection, because at the moment, the minute they whistle-blow, they lose their jobs.

"Once they've lost their job they don't have a valid visa to be in the country and they're facing deportation - and all for speaking the truth and bringing the exploitation into the open."

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