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New Zealand (Tier 2)

The Government of New Zealand does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore New Zealand remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating three potential cases of trafficking, finalizing new training modules, and creating a new visa category and reporting mechanisms for exploited migrant workers. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not initiate any prosecutions, convict any traffickers, or identify any victims. Officials did not have written procedures for victim identification, and the government has never reported identifying an adult victim of sex trafficking.


  • Increase efforts to identify victims through proactive screening of vulnerable populations, including by drafting and finalizing appropriate victim identification guidelines for government officials.
  • Increase efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases and sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Establish a national referral mechanism to ensure victims—including New Zealand citizens—are appropriately identified as trafficking victims and referred to services and track the number of victims identified by authorities.
  • Amend the trafficking statute to explicitly define the sex trafficking of children as not requiring the use of deception or coercion.
  • Take steps to improve potential victims’ access to services and ensure government-funded services are suitable for trafficking victims.
  • Distribute materials to raise public awareness of all forms of human trafficking.
  • Increase resources for anti-trafficking law enforcement.
  • Improve the content and distribution of materials explaining migrant workers’ rights and mechanisms for reporting exploitation.
  • Increase coordination with NGOs, social service providers, and other civil society stakeholders on anti-trafficking efforts, including victim identification and assistance.
  • Provide anti-trafficking training to diplomatic personnel.


The government maintained inadequate anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Crimes Act of 1961, as amended in 2015, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Section 98D (trafficking in persons) criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 New Zealand dollars ($342,470), or both; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to the forms of sex trafficking covered under the provision, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, Section 98D required a demonstration of deception or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. However, Section 98AA criminalized all forms of child sex trafficking under its “dealing in persons” provision and prescribed penalties of up 14 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government sometimes utilized the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA) to prosecute child sex trafficking crimes, including Sections 20 and 21 which criminalized the facilitating, assisting, causing, or encouraging a child to provide commercial sex acts, in addition to receiving earnings from commercial sex acts provided by a child. These sections of the PRA prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment, which were significantly lower than those available for trafficking offenses under Section 98D and 98AA of the Crimes Act.

The government initiated investigations of three potential cases of trafficking but did not initiate any prosecutions or convict any traffickers; this was compared with eight investigations, two sex trafficking prosecutions, and conviction of seven sex traffickers in the previous reporting period. Following the enactment of the trafficking law in 2015, the government has exclusively used Section 98D to prosecute labor trafficking crimes and has never prosecuted a sex trafficking crime or a case of internal trafficking under Section 98D. The government required the Attorney General to approve any charges under Section 98D before authorities could initiate court proceedings.

An anti-trafficking operations group, composed of immigration authorities, police, the children’s ministry, and other agencies, continued to meet to increase law enforcement coordination. The Labour Inspectorate (LI) investigated forced labor complaints but worked mainly within the civil legal system, which may have contributed to the lack of criminal prosecution of forced labor crimes when authorities did not refer cases for criminal investigations. Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) serious offences unit investigated trafficking cases that involved immigration violations; however, according to some observers, there was a reluctance within INZ to pursue trafficking charges and the agency did not consistently coordinate with prosecutors before deciding to pursue charges. In addition, LI and INZ reportedly did not consistently respond to or investigate complaints made by exploited migrant workers, and despite finalizing a strategy in early 2021 to formalize their collaboration, the agencies reportedly did not effectively coordinate to investigate potential trafficking cases. INZ and New Zealand Police (NZP) completed a protocol in October 2021 aimed to improve coordination between the agencies during joint investigations, including on trafficking cases. Police reportedly did not proactively pursue trafficking cases due to capacity constraints, indicating that police did not understand the gravity of the crime and failed to hold traffickers accountable. In addition, the government did not adequately train police officers to identify indicators of trafficking among victims of domestic or family violence, including in cases where traffickers forced adult victims into commercial sex, and therefore the crime often went unnoticed by authorities. Some experts previously noted that the lack of efforts by law enforcement to treat sex trafficking cases appropriately minimized the prevalence of the crime and resulted in weak efforts to hold traffickers accountable and protect victims.

The Ministry of Business, Immigration, and Employment (MBIE) finalized new training modules for immigration officers, labor inspectors, and other frontline officials on identifying and investigating trafficking, interviewing victims, and processing visas for victims; the government delivered the training to INZ staff during the reporting period. NZP continued to require anti-trafficking training for all detectives and included a trafficking and smuggling chapter in its police manual. The government also provided anti-trafficking training to police child protection specialist teams and criminal investigations branch managers; Employment New Zealand conducted “train the trainer” sessions for six officials. The government did not report training prosecutors or judiciary officials, and one observer reported the government did not adequately train labor inspectors to investigate potential trafficking crimes. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.


The government maintained insufficient victim identification and protection efforts. For the second consecutive year, the government did not formally identify any victims of trafficking. Although the government delivered training to some officials that included guidance on victim identification, government agencies did not have formal written procedures for victim identification. The government used a process to formally certify a foreign person as a trafficking victim, enabling their access to a specific visa category for victims of trafficking and basic services such as health care; however, the government did not certify any victims using this process. The government lacked a system to formally recognize all trafficking victims, including victims from New Zealand. One NGO reported the government’s criteria for the certification of victims was not publicly available and it was unknown if or how victims could appeal a decision. While the government did not require victims to be certified or formally designated as trafficking victims to access support services, a lack of recognition by the government that traffickers had exploited them may have inhibited victims’ ability to obtain specialized services. The absence of a system to formally recognize all victims of trafficking and track the number identified by authorities may have impeded the government’s ability to identify trafficking trends and develop effective responses. The government has never certified a foreign victim of sex trafficking. Despite evidence that traffickers have forced adults, particularly female victims of family violence, into commercial sex in New Zealand, the government has never identified an adult New Zealander as a victim of sex trafficking. NZP had legal limitations on its ability to proactively screen for sex trafficking victims, including among New Zealand citizens, within the legal commercial sex industry, which was primarily regulated by the Ministry of Health (MOH). For example, due to regulations prohibiting police from inspecting legal brothels without a complaint, police relied on MOH officials and an organization that works closely with individuals in commercial sex to report potential criminal violations; however, the government did not report providing training to the organization’s or MOH’s staff on definitions or indicators of sex trafficking or procedures for the referral of trafficking victims to services. The government delivered training to INZ airline liaison officers posted overseas to improve their ability to identify suspected trafficking victims among persons traveling to New Zealand.

The government allowed for a reflection period, the length of which depended on the individual needs of each victim, for victims to recover before deciding whether to cooperate with law enforcement. The government did not allocate funding specifically to assist trafficking victims or provide services designed for trafficking victims. However, trafficking victims were eligible to receive government-funded services available for all victims of serious crimes provided through arrangements with local community groups, and the government provided temporary housing, medical services, employment assistance, and other social services, as well as emergency grants in cases involving debt-based coercion.

Observers reported a lack of adequate services available for child sex trafficking victims, services were not easily accessible for victims of both labor and sex trafficking, and officials did not provide clear guidance to some NGO service providers seeking government assistance. The government could fund travel and accommodation expenses for victims who had returned to their home countries to travel to New Zealand and participate in court proceedings, but it did not report funding such expenses for trafficking victims during the year. The law authorized the extension of temporary residence visas to certified foreign trafficking victims for up to 12 months, which also made them eligible for legal employment, and foreign victims facing hardship or retribution in their home countries could apply for a residency visa. During the reporting period, INZ granted residency visas to 13 trafficking victims and their family members, as well as up to five work visas. INZ updated its trafficking website to include information on visas for trafficking victims and brochures in nine languages; however, the updated page included an incorrect definition of trafficking that required the movement of a person. The law allowed victims to receive restitution from criminal proceedings, and victims could seek compensation from assets forfeited in criminal cases through civil claims; however, the government did not report if any victims received restitution or compensation during the reporting period.


The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. INZ chaired the government’s interagency working group on trafficking and operated a team responsible for coordinating government anti-trafficking efforts. In January 2022, the government published the first report documenting its efforts to implement the March 2021 “Plan of Action against Forced Labor, People Trafficking and Slavery.” INZ held an observatory role within an anti-trafficking advisory group co-chaired by two civil society organizations. The government established an advisory group composed of government officials, NGOs, businesses, academics, and trade unions to consider legislation addressing human trafficking in supply chains. The government did not report sufficient efforts to raise awareness of sex trafficking, although it continued to maintain webpages and distribute pamphlets to raise awareness of trafficking indicators and the availability of support services. There remained a lack of sufficient efforts to increase public awareness of trafficking, with low levels of understanding of the crime across New Zealand, including among social service providers and the general public.

The government initiated a review of intercountry adoption legislation seeking to, in part, mitigate risks related to trafficking and other forms of exploitation. New Zealand’s Parliament also solicited civil society input on the prevalence of migrant exploitation and gaps in legislation to address migrant exploitation. INZ held virtual meetings with leaders of migrant communities to raise awareness of migrant workers’ rights in New Zealand. The government distributed guides for employers recruiting migrant workers, published information on the rights of migrant workers on government websites in 13 languages, and sent welcome emails with workers’ rights information to all approved residence, work, and student visa holders. MBIE continued to distribute pamphlets, in five languages, listing who was able to legally engage in commercial sex and it provided information on how to report exploitation; however, these materials did not specifically address trafficking. In addition, many of the materials on migrant workers’ rights and employment laws were not clear or distributed effectively, and some workers were unaware of their rights or how to report exploitation. The government did not operate a trafficking specific hotline; however, workers could make complaints through MBIE’s employment rights hotline, which referred cases involving worker exploitation to the labor inspectorate. In addition, the government created a new migrant exploitation hotline and online reporting application in July 2021. However, there were reports that this system was ineffective, authorities did not investigate urgent complaints in a timely manner, authorities did not refer some cases to investigators, and individuals were left uncertain if authorities took their claims seriously or would provide support. Immigration authorities’ delays in processing migrant workers’ applications to change conditions of their visas, including changing employers, increased trafficking risks and prevented some workers from leaving exploitative conditions for extended periods of time.

In July 2021, the government introduced a new six-month migrant exploitation protection visa (MEPV) to enable exploited workers—whose visa was tied to their employer—to obtain alternative employment and remain in New Zealand while authorities investigated their cases; the government issued 87 MEPVs between July 2021 and March 2022. Nonetheless, advocates said the MEPV did not fully address exploitation facilitated by employer-linked visas and some workers may have been deterred from seeking a MEPV if they held a visa longer than six months. Government regulations banned employers who breached employment standards from recruiting migrant workers for periods of six to 24 months, and the government published a list of all offending employers on its website. Immigration officials and labor inspectors inspected legal brothels to ensure conditions complied with the law and conducted investigations and routine audits in workplaces that employed migrant workers. The law prohibited individuals or companies from charging employment premiums, such as recruitment fees; labor inspectors could initiate proceedings in the Employment Relations Authority to recover premiums and seek a penalty against violators, although authorities did not report if this occurred during the reporting period. Some sources believed the labor inspectorate was understaffed and under-resourced, which they felt limited its ability to carry out effective inspections and adequately investigate exploitative employment, including potential cases of trafficking. Observers reported penalties proscribed to unscrupulous employers in employment courts were often not significant enough to deter exploitative practices and the employers could continue operating under a new company. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in New Zealand. Foreign men and women from South and East Asia, the Pacific, and some countries in Latin America are vulnerable to forced labor in New Zealand’s agriculture, dairy, construction, viticulture, food service, liquor retail, technology, hospitality, transport, and domestic service sectors. Unregulated and unlicensed immigration brokers operating in New Zealand and source countries, particularly in India and the Philippines, facilitate trafficking by assisting in the process to issue visas to victims. Some foreign workers are charged excessive recruitment fees and experience unjustified salary deductions, non- or under-payment of wages, excessively long working hours, restrictions on their movement, passport retention, and contract alteration. Some employers force migrants, whose visas are often tied to their employer, to work in job conditions different from those promised during recruitment and use intimidation tactics and false information about immigration laws to prevent victims from seeking assistance. The pandemic increased the reluctance or ability of many foreign nationals to leave New Zealand, and those who became undocumented as a result were increasingly vulnerable to exploitation. Furthermore, temporary migrant workers in sectors most negatively affected by the pandemic, such as tourism and hospitality, were increasingly vulnerable to exploitation.

While experts assessed the Prostitution Reform Act, which decriminalized commercial sex for New Zealand residents, overall increased protections for those who willingly engaged in commercial sex, traffickers continue to target vulnerable populations, such as children, migrants, and adult victims of domestic and family violence for exploitation in sex trafficking. Foreign women from Asia and South America in commercial sex are at risk of sex trafficking, especially those who do not speak English and who work in private homes and informal or suburban environments, where they are more isolated from service providers. Some international students and temporary visa holders are at risk of sex and labor trafficking. Immigration brokers and unscrupulous brothel owners subject some migrants to conditions indicative of sex trafficking, including non-payment of wages, withheld passports, physical or sexual abuse, threats of deportation, monitored movements, limited access to medical care or other social services, and excessive working hours. Some migrants are required to pay fines, bonds, and recruitment and other fees to brothel operators or brokers, which make them vulnerable to debt-based coercion. Traffickers utilized Section 19 of the PRA, which prohibited non-residents from legally working in the decriminalized commercial sex industry, to use threats of deportation or other adverse action from law enforcement to deter migrants in commercial sex from reporting verbal or physical abuse, unwanted or unsafe sexual practices, or non-payment of wages. Some gang members, boyfriends, family members, or others exploit young children and teenagers in sex trafficking by facilitating, purchasing, or forcing them to engage in commercial sex acts. Some adult women, often those who face domestic or family violence, are forced by partners to engage in commercial sex acts. Some victims are coerced into commercial sex through drug dependencies or threats by family members. One service provider reported a notable proportion of its clients reported being forced into commercial sex by their partners in order for their partners to purchase or obtain drugs and other substances. However, experts suggest the prevalence of forced commercial sex among New Zealand women is significantly under-reported and under-detected.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future