5 Oct 2015

Filipino workers panicking over visa probe

9:09 am on 5 October 2015

An investigation by Immigration New Zealand into false documents is causing fear and panic amongst the Filipino community in South Canterbury.

Immigration New Zealand is investigating false claims of work experience on visa applications, with reports of a widespread blackmarket operating in the Philippines to supply false documents.

Immigration New Zealand said it was still processing visas and renewals for Filipinos workers, but employers and employees here said there was a slow down and people were worried that many would not pass the greater scrutiny.

Friesian cow.

Uncertainty over visas for Filipino workers is causing the dairy sector problems. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Earl Magtibay, Chair of the Filipino Dairy Workers Association, said word had been spreading around the Filipino community for some months about stricter checks by Immigration on new visas and renewals.

He said he had been trying to reassure people, but many were fearful and starting to panic.

"Most of these are the sole providers for their family, like the bread winners."

He said many would have paid large sums to get to New Zealand and would still be working to pay that off. Mr Magtibay said being sent back to the Philippines would be devastating for them.

He said some people were already experiencing difficulties due to the delays in renewing visas.

He knew of one man who had been unable to work for the last four months due to delays in renewing his visa. The man's employer had been holding his job, but was now losing patience.

Mr Magtibay said the man did have the required farming experience but, because it was an informal arrangement working on a family farm, he did not have the required official paper work.

Mr Magtibay said most Filipinos were hoping that even if people's documents were found to be false, they would be given a second chance.

"It's not as if they just came here to enjoy or whatever," said Mr Magtibay. " They worked hard. They earned their position where they are at right now. That is why they are reapplying (for a visa) because their boss has high esteem of them. They are part of the team."

Leanne Manson and John Gardiner employ four Filipino workers and one New Zealander on their Ashburton farm.

They have been short a worker since May after one Filipino worker was turned down by Immigration New Zealand with little explanation, and the next Filipino employee took six weeks instead of the usual three to go through the process, only for them to find the worker was not right for the job.

Mr Gardiner said people had heard that Immigration New Zealand was now casting a much stricter eye over any visa renewals as well.

He said workers who had been here for many years may suddenly find that their visas were at risk because they did not provide correct documentation when they first arrived.

"So those farmers who have spent a lot of time and effort training these guys, and now it's worth nothing."

Ms Manson said a worker who had been with them for seven years was about to renew his visa. She said they were very worried that he would not be able to meet the tougher document requirements.

She said if was deported, they would not just lose a good worker, but also a good friend.

"He's part of the family, part of the farm. He's part of the kids' life. It would be devastating, just emotionally, if he had to leave."

Roberto Balanos arrived from the Philippines ten years ago, and is now the operations manager on a dairy farm in North Canterbury.

He said some Filipino workers had been naive in trusting recruiters who fill out any necessary paperwork for a hefty fee.

Roberto Bolanos Filipino dairy farmer in North Canterbury

Roberto Bolanos Filipino dairy farmer in North Canterbury Photo: Conan Young

"Filipinos, particularly ones living in the country side, they are not really legal savvy," said Mr Balanos. "They don't want to go through documents and read and all of that. They just rely on the expertise of the recruiter. Their main concern [is] to produce the money to pay the recruiter."

Immigration New Zealand would not comment on how many people were currently being investigated.

A spokesperson said the investigation was ongoing, and it was unable to comment further.

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