Immigration sting finds 38 foreigners illegally employed as sex workers across New Zealand

An Immigration New Zealand investigation into illegal prostitution has found visitors are working in breach of their visas around the country, and are getting help to enter New Zealand.

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Brothels around the country have been visited by Immigration compliance officers. Source: 1 NEWS

Immigration New Zealand compliance and border operations assistant general manager Peter Devoy said most of the suburban owner-operated brothels entered by compliance officers had migrants working there.

"There are facilitators who are arranging their travel to New Zealand, arranging the obtaining of visitor visas and that certainly advanced our understanding of what’s going on and we will feed that back into our border workers to better target people who might be coming through the border to enter this industry," Mr Devoy said.

Compliance officers entered 45 businesses where they suspected unlawful activity in cities nationwide in October and November last year.

They found 38 temporary visa holders working as prostitutes in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin, the majority in Christchurch and Auckland.

All but one of the workers were Chinese nationals.

"Brazilian women are probably working in different locations and different areas," Mr Devoy said.

Mr Devoy said in a statement, from July 2018 to present, 116 suspected sex workers were refused entry to the country.

"The top three nationalities of those refused entry are; China, Brazil, and Taiwan," he said.

The investigation found no evidence of exploitation and that migrant sex workers are more likely to operate from motels and temporary residences.

One of the illegal workers was deported, most left New Zealand voluntarily and four remain in the country at unknown locations.

"We aren’t overly-stringent with sex workers, it’s the integrity of the immigration system that we're interested in, recognising that sex work is lawful in New Zealand.

Prostitute Jane Summers said she was surprised the number of illegal sex workers found by compliance officers was not higher.

"I've worked all throughout New Zealand from Auckland all the way down to Invercargill and everywhere I advertise have people that appear to be illegally working," she said.

She said she believed it would be "very easy" for an organiser to arrange for women to come to New Zealand to work from other countries.

"They don't have to worry about organising ads and photos… someone else is doing that all for them, they would simply come into the country possibly on a tourist visa, do some work and then leave the country again back to where ever is home," she said.

Ms Summers said everyone should have the right to be a sex worker in New Zealand.

"That would make it a safer work environment for absolutely everyone," she said.

The Government isn’t considering changing the law, a Government spokesperson said in a statement.

New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective founder Catherine Healy said she was "immensely pleased" no evidence of exploitation was found, but was critical of how Immigration New Zealand gathered information.

"Government officials wearing vests with cameras interrogating ... interviewing, take your pick, sex workers who are in breach of the law aren’t necessarily going to get to the points," she said.

"Our preferred approach would be to work closely with community to support sex workers in these situations."

Anti-trafficking organisation The Préscha Initiative’s Rebekah Armstrong said determining whether exploitation has occurred takes time in order to build trust, and research needs to have a human rights and victim-centred approach.

"There are power dynamics at play with victims/potential victims of exploitation and many reasons why they would not openly disclose information to Government/Immigration NZ,"  she said in a statement.

Ms Armstrong said when she was helping create New Zealand’s first research into worker exploitation, the project had to be extended due to the time it took for exploitation victims to feel comfortable talking to the researcher as they feared deportation.

"We found that many temporary migrants tolerated exploitation so they could qualify for permanent residency or because they were coerced and/or deceived by their employer," she said in the statement.

Prostitution in New Zealand is legal for citizens and permanent residents, as well as Australians.