Investigation into migrant workers' fees

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN AND MARC GRENHILL
Last updated 08:41 25/03/2013

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The Immigration Advisers Authority has referred revelations about an Auckland immigration agent organising Filipino workers for the Christchurch rebuild to the Labour Department's inspectorate.

In an article in the Sunday Star-Times yesterday, Press reporters disclosed how a Christchurch businessman, posing as a greedy recruiter of Filipino workers, was offered $3000 to $4000 to "clip the ticket" on upfront fees paid by Filipino migrant workers to secure employment in New Zealand.

The recording had shone the spotlight on the potential exploitation of Filipino migrants coming to Christchurch.

The businessman, who asked not to be named, secretly recorded licensed immigration adviser Rosemarie Scholes, the director of ANZSIIS and originally from the Philippines, explaining how he could "clip the ticket" for doing very little.

The recording was provided to The Press.

Workers from the Philippines are becoming a major part of the Christchurch rebuild workforce and can pay between $7,000 and $12,000, often borrowed at a monthly interest rate of 5 to 8 per cent, to pay for immigration processing, securing employment in New Zealand and airfares.

Scholes was in Christchurch this month, talking to potential clients and other Christchurch organisations.

The businessman, who recruits and employs some Filipino workers, recorded the conversation because he believes Filipino workers are being ripped off.

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Advisers Authority, which licenses immigration agents, said the authority would welcome complaints about the events reported by the SST.

"Anyone can complain. You don't need to be the person who has received the immigration advice.

"We have also referred the matter to the Labour Inspectorate."

She said immigration advisers were bound by a code of conduct which obliged them to set fees that were fair and reasonable, to work in a manner that did not unnecessarily increase costs and to disclose to clients any financial and non-financial interests in goods or services recommended or supplied to clients.

The authority had received a total of 157 complaints relating to 69 advisers since it was established in May 2008. Of these, 49 have resulted in the adviser being sanctioned. It could not specify how many complaints related to fees.

In the recording, Scholes said the $3000-$4000 fee could be labelled as an "agency fee" and paid to a separate company. She would also charge the workers about $2000 as her fee, she said.

"Any money handed over is between us . . . You need to set up own account . . . No matter what happens, will not get out," she told the potential client.

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She told the businessman the system was lucrative enough for him to retire.

"We're helping these people at the same time as they are paying us. It's a win-win situation. They come here. It changed their life," Scholes said.

On the recording, Scholes mentioned several Christchurch clients she dealt with and said she was contracted to supply about 200 Filipino workers this year.

She said she could also arrange loans for workers who could not afford the fees with interest about $2000 on a loan of $10,000 over six months.

Scholes, after seeking legal advice, told The Press in a statement she had believed the businessman was a recruitment agent and therefore entitled to a fee.

"We were talking about a hypothetical situation and the recruitment fee was included in that as I believed they were looking for superior workers such as engineers.

"I referred to them not being caught as there was nothing illegal about them charging a recruitment fee. It is up to them how they report it in terms of their overall income.

"I reiterate there would be no benefit to me in the increased fee and this is an unfortunate situation where I feel I have been misled and misrepresented over an issue that might relate more to concerns about direct employers than immigration consultants."

She provided a breakdown of fees her company charged migrants as follows:

ANZSIIS fee $2019.

Philippines Overseas Employment Agency $1800.

Air ticket $1300.

Medical certification $300-400.

Other documentation $200.

Marketing Agent NZ Dream $1300.

In other documentation she listed the fee charged by the New Zealand embassy for worker visa processing as $400 when the actual fee, according to Immigration NZ, is $270.

The Phillipines embassy in Wellington said the fee charged by the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (not agency) was about $40, not the $1800 stated by ANZSIIS.

Scholes said the POEA figure in her breakdown referred to the fee charged by private POEA accredited "deployment" agencies and the documentation she provided was a draft agreement but she charged the correct visa fee on actual agreements.

Scholes started her immigration business in 1996 and also founded the ANZSIIS (stands for Australasia (sic) New Zealand Societal Intelligence and Immigration Services) International School, which had about four staff and taught courses for the NZ Diploma in Business and another diploma in management.

The company behind the school was put into liquidation by the High Court in Auckland on March 13 on an application by Inland Revenue.

She remains the only director and shareholder of ANZSIIS Consulting Ltd. Two other companies of which she was a director and shareholder have been struck off.

The company has offices in Auckland, Queenstown and Manila, according to its website.

If you have information regarding Filipino migrant workers please email martin.vanbeynen@fairfaxmedia.co.nz or marc.greenhill@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

THE CRITERIA

- Migrants wanting to work temporarily in New Zealand must have a work permit.

- In general NZ residents and citizens have first choice over foreign nationals and employers with vacancies must be able to show local workers are not available.

- Approval for foreign workers will be rejected if NZ workers are available but unwilling to work for the pay and conditions offered.

- Canterbury employers seeking construction workers do not need to provide evidence of attempting to recruit NZ workers if the job is on the Canterbury Skill Shortage List.

- Trades on the list include bricklayers, stonemasons, carpenters, joiners, painters, glaziers, plasterers, tilers, drainlayers, electricians, upholsters and scaffolders.

- Employers in the Canterbury region wanting foreign nationals for jobs not on the Canterbury Skill Shortage List must go through the Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub which works with Works and Income.

- Immigration advisers in NZ must be licensed with the Immigration Advisers Authority.

- Filipino recruitment agents operating in the Philippines must also be licensed by the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration.

- Immigration advisers operating in NZ must set out fees and disbursements clearly, set out payment terms and conditions and provide an invoice each time a fee is payable.

- The Press

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