Twenty-five Fijian bus drivers employed by bus company Go Wellington are facing deportation after working around the city for up to six years.
The men were granted annual work visas and employed by NZ Bus from 2006 when bus driving was listed on Immigration New Zealand's skills shortage list. Now Immigration NZ is refusing to renew the visas because the shortage no longer exists.
The Fijian Indian men brought their families with them, and had proved themselves to be honest, hard-working and law-abiding citizens, Tramways Union Wellington branch president Evan Keay said.
"It really does appear to be a case of blatant exploitation. These workers and their families were encouraged to come here. They've been used to fill gaps and bolster the New Zealand economy.
"Now, because it no longer suits government policy, they are being systematically ejected from this country."
The work permit for the first member of the group expired last month.
The driver now faces deportation if his appeal proves unsuccessful.
Affected drivers approached this week said they did not wish to comment as they feared it might prejudice their own appeals once their work permits expired.
There are 46 Fijian drivers in Wellington and Auckland, mainly of Fijian Indian origin, who could be affected by the change in immigration status.
Mr Keay said the drivers had come to New Zealand in good faith with their wives and children.
"Many of the children have spent virtually their entire life in New Zealand. These children have received all their schooling here and have no knowledge of life in Fiji and the hardships that will present upon their return . . .
"The only change that has occurred in the last six years, and has led to the refusal of Immigration NZ to renew these workers' visas, is Government policy," he said.
The drivers are also being supported by NZ Bus chief executive Zane Fulljames, who wrote to former immigration minister Jonathan Coleman, telling him deporting the drivers would prove costly to the company. "It is likely the cost of training 46 replacements would approach $700,000 ($15,000 per head approx)," Mr Fulljames wrote.
He would like special consideration to be given to the men, as they had shown hard work and loyalty. "We would like a degree of certainty and security while they pursue permanent citizenship."
Immigration NZ general manager Nicola Hogg said bus drivers could be granted only one-year work visas under the essential skills policy. In Wellington and Auckland there were now New Zealanders available to work as bus drivers.
"The Fijian bus drivers do not have a pathway to residence. All of them have been granted additional visas of up to 12 months. This step has been taken to give the drivers sufficient time to organise their affairs and arrange their return home."
Outgoing Immigration Minister Nathan Guy said: "I sympathise with these bus drivers but their work visas were always temporary with a limited timeframe. Our policy is that we look for New Zealanders first for jobs, before turning to overseas workers.
"I've offered a number of options to the drivers, including a one-year extension to their visas to give them more time to make plans."
- © Fairfax NZ News
What do you think of the white peace poppy campaign?Related story: Timing of white poppy appeal 'contemptible'