22 Oct 2015

'Filipino dairy workers victims of crime' - farmer

2:11 pm on 22 October 2015

Dairy farmer James Burke, whose Filipino staff are involved in an investigation into false visa documents, says they are victims of crime.

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Photo: AFP

Immigration New Zealand says a visa document scam has exposed a widespread problem of workers exaggerating their experience and qualifications to get jobs on dairy farms.

On Monday, the agency arrested a Filipino/New Zealand female recruiter for fraud.

James Burke sharemilks 1500 cows through two sheds in Culverden, North Canterbury.

He employs four Filipino staff who are all on work visas, but he said they were concerned about what may happen when they have to re-apply. Mr Burke said some of them would be involved in the documentation issues.

"Essentially they're a victim of a crime as well. They, in good faith, got the documents they thought were correct so they've been mislead.

"The big issue is that they're here currently, they're part of the community... they've got the relevant work experience on farm now and NZQA recognition of learning. As long as they don't get disadvantaged by the method they got here in the first place, the actual weighting of the skills and abilities that they've currently got need to be brought into it."

Mr Burke said issues started to surface in 2011 when the work requirement changed.

"Previous to that they didn't need any dairy experience. So most of the Filipino staff that have come to the country since 2011 will have incorrect documents.

"One of our guys he's on a two year work visa, which is an extension of his original visa and in July that comes due for renewal so he's very concerned that even though he's got 5.5 years of dairy experience in New Zealand, he could be sent back to the Philippines because of an initial error in his documents."

Mr Burke said if a large number of Filipino workers were sent home, it would leave an enormous hole in the dairy industry's labour pool.

He said as an employer, it was also hard to know where they stood.

Immigration New Zealand assistant general manager Peter Elms said the investigation was on-going and other people could be charged.

He said there were 1700 Filipinos working in the dairy industry on one year temporary visas, and their paper work would be scrutinised.

"So as those visas come up for renewal we'll be asking a few more questions to find out whether they have previously lied to us or exaggerated their work experience.

"In deciding whether we renew those visas, we'll take into account a number of factors, including the extent in which they've lied to us, but also the impacts on the dairy industry and public interest factors, such as how well settled those individuals are in the community."

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