Indian students are being exploited into paying up to $40,000 for jobs they believe will help them gain residency, members of the Indian community have told RNZ.
Former students have described exploitation, including being forced to repay a third of their weekly pay to their employer, receiving less pay than their official rate, and paying thousands of dollars for their jobs.
The Migrant Workers Association says ''job-selling'' is common.
One man, who asked not to be named, said he paid an Indian man $35,000 for a job in a Turkish restaurant last year.
"The job was a restaurant manager," he said.
"He paid the minimum wage ($15.75) for me, but in the offer letter he wrote $19."
The man said he did not complain because he was afraid his employer would cancel his visa.
He said he was repaid $19,000 of the $35,000 he paid to the agent because the restaurant had closed down, but he now had just three months to find another job or lose his opportunity to gain residence.
"It's a not good feeling now. It's the worst days of my life," he said.
Another former student, Shera, said his Indian employer made him repay a third of his $624 weekly pay from 2012 to 2015.
"Once I got my visa he had a meeting with me after one week," he said.
"He said 'I will ring you when I need this money', so he just ring me one time and then said 'look $10,000 transfer into this account'. One time he took $7000 as cash."
Shera said he was paid for 40 hours a week, but was often expected to work for 60-70 hours.
"I was exploited. Totally," he said.
Shera said if he had complained, his employer would have cancelled his work permit and his chances of gaining residence.
In 2015, Shera got permanent residence and the repayments stopped, but last year, he said, his employer sacked him.
The Migrant Workers Association and members of the Indian community told RNZ such problems were widespread and students could pay as much as $40,000 for a job.
Association spokesperson Anu Kaloti said job-selling was common because of the situation Indian students found themselves in, rather than because of their ethnicity.
"When somebody's on a temporary visa here, they would like to be here longer-term or on a permanent basis, they're desperate, they're much more vulnerable so it's much easier for the employers to exploit those vulnerable migrant workers," Mrs Kaloti said.
Immigration New Zealand general manager settlement, protection and attraction, Steve McGill, said foreign students were sometimes willing participants in the practice.
"Indian students will have a motivation to come here. Some of them will not be able to meet the standards here so they will try it on. In doing so they may work with employers to present to us that they've got a legitimately high-paying job to meet the conditions of permanent residence under the Skilled Migration Category," he said.
He said there was no way of knowing how much job-selling was happening.
"But when we find it happening we will work to stamp it out and where it's unlawful behaviour, it will be taken through legal proceedings."
Immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont said New Zealand's education system was marketed in India as a stepping stone to residence so that was what students were aiming for.
He said rules pushed foreign students into jobs where they were likely to be exploited.
"The initial instinct of the students when they come here is to come and work for a large, respectable employer but they soon discover that that's not going to get them residency and the only pathway to residency is by working in these small businesses that makes them very vulnerable to exploitation," he said.
Immigration New Zealand assistant general manager Peter Elms said changes to the Skilled Migrant Category (SMC) did not differentiate based on the size of the employer.
"They are focused on improving skill levels of successful applicants and ensuring we are attracting migrants who bring the most economic benefits to New Zealand," he said.
Mr Elms said Immigration was extremely concerned about any reports of migrants paying for job offers and had invested heavily in stamping out the practice.
"INZ does not accept that the SMC changes will lead to more cases of migrants looking for jobs in small businesses.
"Measures are already in place to verify that the salary offered to SMC applicants is genuine, such as requesting tax records and information on employers' ability to pay any salaries offered," he said.
Documents obtained under the Official Information Act say the practice is an established business model, with some businesses developing relationships with private tertiary institutions to get access to students.