26 Apr 2018
New Zealand opens doors for immigrants with sex work skills
New Zealand (NZ), which became the first country in the world to legalize prostitution 15 years ago, has gone a step further.
It now allows prospective immigrants to claim points as skilled sex workers and escorts.
However, there are several conditions which make actually getting points on this basis difficult.
But it could be a revolutionary move in itself, setting precedents for others.
NZ's Prostitution Reform Act was the first of its kind
In 2003, NZ decriminalized the buying and selling of sex. Certain aspects were still regulated- migrant workers were prohibited from prostitution, and using condoms was mandatory.
But NZ was accepting the "inevitability of prostitution" and working to "minimize a specific harm," said then-Labour MP Tim Barnett.
Prostitutes in NZ now had contracts, received regular pay, and were legally able to approach police for help.
'NZ is the best country to work as a prostitute'
Twelve years after the act came into place, Catherine Healey, Co-ordinator, NZ Prostitutes' Collective, called it the "best country to work as a prostitute." Sex workers now feel "completely comfortable" reporting abusive clients to police, and the system "keeps exploitation in check," she said.
Visa applications for highly skilled sex workers have certain conditions
NZ is now extending such facilities for migrant sex workers too. Those having skill level 5 under the Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations would be eligible to apply.
To be considered 'skilled,' they have to be paid over NZ$36.44 (Rs. 1,730) hourly, or NZ$75,795 (Rs. 36L) yearly on a 40-hour week.
Secondary education and three years of work-experience will be compulsory.
Strict conditions can hamper immigration of sex workers, officials admit
There are many obstacles though. One cannot apply for short-term visas listing prostitution skills, since "sex work is specifically excepted" from temporary visas.
This means "an applicant would have to be onshore lawfully and not working, or off-shore while applying for residence, and they'd need a formal offer of employment," said New Zealand Association of Migration and Investment (NZAMI) spokesperson Peter Moses.
Has NZ's legalization actually benefited sex workers?
By and large, there's consensus that NZ's decriminalization of prostitution has benefited the women.
In one case, an Ukrainian man was jailed for nine years for assaulting and raping a prostitute at an Auckland cemetery.
In 2010, two former sex workers, who couldn't find jobs after a six-month government program to help them find work outside the sex industry, were even granted unemployment benefits.
So why are some opposing legalization?
There're two sides to every coin. British academic Julie Bindel argued that the law had done nothing to actually improve lives of sex workers on the ground.
Police still remain ignorant of the concept of consent and ignore the regular violence in the industry.
Power has actually shifted from sex workers to brothel owners, she says, who now consider violence as an 'occupational hazard.'