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Unhappy with Immigration NZ: Thai2Go owner James Porteous

By PHILIP CHANDLER

A Queenstown food operator’s outraged 12 ‘‘heavyhanded’’ Immigration New Zealand officials simultaneously raided four of his outlets this week, only to find his foreign staff all had valid visas.

Organic Thai takeaway owner James Porteous says the agents, in groups of three, barged their way into his Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell and Christchurch delivery outlets at 4.45pm on Tuesday.

‘‘We know they have the right to come and check people’s visas and we know many of our competitors have cut corners.

‘‘It’s just the heavyhanded berating of staff, the accusations and the disbelief they couldn’t find anything, it was like dog on bone a bit.

‘‘If they had those 12 stormtrooper agents approving visas instead of raiding businesses that are fully compliant, then maybe we wouldn’t have to wait months and months for visas to be processed.’’

Porteous says he employs a Thai chef at each of his five Thai2Go outlets — the one in
Timaru wasn’t raided — who he says are all on sponsored visas.

He employs ‘‘three or four’’ other foreign staff on work visas, but says otherwise his staff are all Kiwis.

Staff, customers rattled by ‘stormtroopers’

‘‘One Thai chef gives us five Kiwi jobs — we’ll have as many Kiwis as we can, that’s our
philosophy,” Porteous says.

‘‘We’re doing something good here — I’m the only Thai restaurant owner that is Kiwi
that doesn’t have a Thai wife.’’

Porteous suspects Immigration must have had a tip-off.

‘‘There’s a lot of budget that goes into 12 agents raiding simultaneously, a lot of logistics,
and to come back empty-handed, I guess that’s going to be a bit embarrassing when you come back to head office.’’

However he was most annoyed about their tactics, saying he had staff rattled and chefs in tears.

‘‘I mean, after they left the chefs were going, ‘am I getting deported? What’s going on? All
my paperwork is in order’.

‘‘In Cromwell they badgered and badgered our poor driver and said, ‘surely there’s more than one chef here’.’’

He says Immigration NZ’s actions also caused a loss of business — ‘‘it hurts us even
more during these tough times’’.

He adds the raids were also disruptive for his business neighbours and unsettling for customers.

‘‘Customers that are seeing this raid, with uniformed agents running in, pouncing from the
front door, pouncing from the back door, everyone’s going, ‘what’s going on? Is this business OK?

‘‘We’re a business that is trying to do the right thing, we have EVs to lower our emissions,
we use organic food which helps the soil, we’re the only organic takeaways in NZ, and we’re punished with a raid like this.’’

Porteous believes if Immigration NZ hadn’t closed its Queenstown office, ‘‘they’d know our business, they’d know how busy we are, they’d know why we needed those chefs’’.

‘‘But no, they closed the office down and they send these officers from God knows where
— I’m sure they had a great dinner and a few drinks and then stayed overnight.

‘‘If they had more on-the-ground information, actually knew about Queenstown, Wanaka, Cromwell, they’d be working with industry, instead of attacking industry and doing these raids.’’

Immigration NZ denies it conducted ‘raids’

Immigration NZ confirms it’s been active in the Central Otago and Canterbury hospitality sectors this week but says it was conducting visits, not ‘raids’.

‘‘These visits were not ‘raids’ but were normal compliance activities involving immigration officers attending properties during business working hours and by appointment to ensure
migrants and employers were compliant with immigration and employment law,’’ verification and compliance GM Geoff Scott says.

‘‘The purpose of this activity is to ensure employers are adhering to the relevant legislation when conducting business in the hospitality sector and to inform employers and employess in the industry that wilful non-compliance with NZ law will not be tolerated.’’

Concerning Porteous’ specific allegations, an Immigration NZ spokesman says it couldn’t respond by deadline — Mountain Scene will publish its response next week.

scoop@scene.co.nz