Ethos Community

I recently attended a meeting where the key topic of discussion was the exploitation of migrant workers by their migrant employers. The plight of some migrants both on shore and on the oceans was shared. It made one's stomach turn.

Then I reflected on some of the stories a number of my migrant students shared with me. This prompted me to ask a question at that meeting - "Why focus on employers? Aren't some educational providers also exploiting migrant students?"

Aren't some schools simply enrolling international students to fill "bums on seats" and to make money but with no real chance of gaining employment related to their qualification? How many migrant students have you seen pumping gas, washing dishes at restaurants or making digital orbital objects, long after they graduated?

What do you think as Ethos community members? Am I exaggerating?

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A really important provocation, Adon - thank you. The first thing I did was sat down to do a bit of research, in particular for migrants gaining employment in related to their chosen course of study, as well as what information there was for migrants about graduation rates and career potential.

I found things for migrants about migrant exploitation, stories about migrant exploitation of migrants and, white papers for employers within New Zealand. I found a Canadian organisation: Students against migrant exploitation. There's quite a lot about international students working while studying in New Zealand (but not migrants).

Then, finally, I came across an article that quotes the New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI). The chair, June Ranson, is cited as saying that students “are being enticed to study in New Zealand with false promises of developing their career in this country and gaining New Zealand residence,” (source). 

The article goes on to explain that:

Ms Ranson says that in 2008 the NZ Government introduced licensing of immigration advisors, which means that any person giving immigration advice about New Zealand must be licensed or have an exemption.

In May 2010 an exemption was granted to offshore persons to become Student Agents. This exemption was quickly picked up on by self-appointed agents, who negotiated arrangements with NZ education institutions and introduced prospective students.

“The people overseas who are providing guidance and organising their student visas for New Zealand are not necessarily qualified to do so. They are enticing students to enrol in low-level Management courses in New Zealand without a thought for the likelihood of them getting work once they have completed the course, and building expectations that the student will be eligible to apply for residence after study.”

Ms Ranson says students coming straight out of study are most unlikely to obtain a management position in NZ, but this is of little concern to the unlicensed agent offshore as they will have been well paid by the time the student completes the course.

“These students would have a far better chance of gaining permanent residence in NZ if they were given guidance about courses that would better suit their circumstances such as post-graduate studies in the area of their studies back home.”(source)

The article definitely suggests that some agents, and by implication some educational providers, are knowingly taking students whose needs are not being best met. Which is unethical at best: as is said in the article, many of "These students and their families sacrifice everything to come and study in NZ" (source).

So, I wonder, how complex is the relationship between agent and education provider. How much are education providers cognisant of the issues? And, given the dearth of coverage and support that is available for migrant students (as shown by my initial research), there seems to be much to do to raise awareness to help ensure that "New Zealand’s immigration laws ...[are] changed to stop overseas students from being exploited by unscrupulous employers and overseas unlicensed agents" (source).

Thanks Hazel for your quick research on the topic and comments. Yes I am familiar with Ms Ranson's article. Even today there is a news item in the papers about a restaurant being fined heavily for migrant exploitation but the company has gone into liquidation so the chances of the migrant getting any money back is pretty slim. Over the years I have had many migrants tell me their horror stories. They are caught between the rock and a hard place. If they complain they lose their job and the mingy income. Often the employers are doing them a favour by giving them a job. In the case of migrant students, some have come with high or false expectations about great job opportunities. The schools need the international students and the students need a "great" NZ qualification. NZ needs international students said to be worth over 1 billion dollars per annum.

Education is a business and rightly they can earn a buck. But what about the students? Who is being exploited?

Incidentally, I met a gentlemen from the Auckland University at the said meeting. He is doing a research on worker exploitation. He has requested a meeting with me.

There are many other related issues such as English language competency despite gaining a high NZ qualification, lack of NZ work experience, lack of Kiwi network etc. These are some of the topics I cover in my migrant workshops in Auckland and at some PTEs.

Some schools are doing their best to address some of the issues we have raised here. But more needs to be done. I am simply putting my hand up to cause a rattle. I am a migrant. My first full time job in NZ was making rubbish bags in a factory, although I had two degrees.

A new law has been passed today to protect migrant workers. "Under the new law, employers who exploit temporary workers could face hefty jail sentences or fines of up to $100,000. Employers here on residence visas who exploit migrant workers could be deported if offences are committed within 10 years of gaining residence". See details at

That's an awesome first step. Feels as though there needs to be much more legislation put in place...and enforced! Thanks for sharing this, Adon.


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