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Migrants working unlawfully in sex industry by choice Thursday, 1 August 2019

Immigration New Zealand has found a number of migrants working unlawfully in the sex industry, but no evidence of exploitation.

The Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (PRA) states that only New Zealand citizens and residents can legally work in the sex industry.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) took a proactive approach to better understand issues within the sex industry as part of wider work on exploitation.

INZ Compliance Officers visited 57 brothels across Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Wellington, Christchurch, Queenstown and Dunedin.

When engaging proactively with small owner-operated brothel employers and workers, INZ found people on temporary visas working unlawfully.

Sixty-six migrant sex workers were identified 36 on visitor visas, two on student visas and the remainder held resident visas.  All of the sex workers identified except for one were Chinese nationals. There was no evidence they were being exploited.

“Our compliance officers will use this information to inform future operational activity,” says INZ Compliance and Border Operations assistant general manager Peter Devoy.

“The information gathered helps us to investigate pathways of the migrant sex workers found to be in breach of their visas. It enables the INZ Border Operations to improve the identification and management of migrant sex workers attempting to cross the border.”

Operational activity targeted small owner-operated brothels as part of this programme of work, not commercial brothels or massage parlours.

Depending on the region Compliance Officers were accompanied by a combination of Labour Inspectors, NZ Police Officers and City Council Officers.

This programme of work included gathering information to understand the particular challenges within this industry better. It also included educating the sex industry to ensure employers, facilitators of service and workers understand their rights and legal obligations.

“While temporary migrants are unable to work in the sex industry, migrant workers have the same employment rights as all other workers in New Zealand,” Mr Devoy says.

“Any migrants currently being forced to work in the sex industry New Zealand illegally can contact Immigration New Zealand on 0508 558 855 or the Labour Inspectorate on 0800 20 90 20, where their concerns will be handled in a safe environment. People can also contact CrimeStoppers anonymously through our website.”

The sex industry is one element of broader Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment work to combat migrant exploitation. This work aims to support wider cross-Government work on combatting migrant exploitation, to provide medium and longer-term responses to this issue.

For further information contact the media line on 0274 422 141 or email

Section 19 of the PRA sets out immigration-related restrictions on the provision of, operation of and investment in commercial sexual services, and associated businesses by holders of certain visas. There are three restrictions:

  1. Visas cannot be granted on the basis of the provision of sexual services, or on the basis of investment in, or operation of, a prostitution business.
  2. It is a condition of every temporary entry class visa that the holder may not provide commercial sexual services, or operate or invest in a New Zealand prostitution business, while in New Zealand.
  3. Resident visa holders may not operate or invest in a New Zealand prostitution business. However, they may provide commercial sexual services.

If a person is believed on reasonable grounds to have undertaken such prohibited actions as above, then they are liable for deportation.

Compliance officers may enter any premises - whether a brothel or a private property - without a warrant in order to serve or execute a deportation liability notice or deportation order, as long as there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person named in the notice or order is present and they are providing commercial sexual services.