Don Brash's calls for the Government to turn a blind eye to illegal migrants working on rebuilding Christchurch has upset some migrant advocates, while others say it is already happening.
The former Act and National leader believes the city needs all hands on deck, arguing officials should focus on rebuilding the city rather than hunting down unlawful workers.
Christchurch Migrants Centre manager Rex Gibson said employing illegal migrants on Christchurch building sites would put a question mark over all migrant workers.
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"People start looking at legitimate migrants who've been through the whole filtering process and assume a lot of them are illegal. I think that's quite disrespectful to those migrants," said Gibson.
Immigration New Zealand says it is not aware of any particular issues but understands the rebuild could attract foreign nationals without visas. It says it is not actively hunting out illegal migrants.
'Fly-by-nighters exploiting the situation'
However, some migrant advocates say illegal migrants are already working in Christchurch's building sites.
Christchurch Multicultural Learning Centre director Patrick O'Connor said he had heard anecdotal stories of illegal operations.
"Most Canterbury employers are fantastic but there are fly-by-nighters who are exploiting the situation. They're probably operating illegally as well," said O'Connor.
Brash told ONE News he would not "normally" advocate anything illegal but the Christchurch rebuild was a matter of urgency.
"I think Christchurch is facing a situation of utmost seriousness and I think for that reason the Government should be encouraging everyone who's willing to help rebuild Christchurch to do so," said Brash.
Brash first announced his stand on migrant workers through social networking site Facebook after Fairfax reported fears of an illegal migrant scam taking root in Christchurch.
The story said national recruitment companies and Christchurch migrant agencies were aware of dozens of illegal migrants working on building sites around the city and that the rebuild had become a "priority" for Immigration New Zealand.
In response to the story, Brash posted: "I have to say that I couldn't give a damn about so-called illegal workers helping to rebuild Christchurch . . . If I had somebody helping to rebuild my home after almost two years of waiting for anything to be done, I wouldn't care what their immigration status was."
Brash, who now lives in Auckland, grew up in Christchurch and told The Press he was frustrated to hear his retired sister, who has been living in a caravan since the February 2011 earthquake, would not have her house repaired before Christmas.
"My feeling is, if this were war, everybody would be saying: 'Look, we want all hands to the pump and if anybody is willing to work hard to help that's fantastic."
And the public share strong views on the issue, with comments on the ONE News Facebook page indicating the majority disagree with Brash.
Buck Rogers commented, "I'd say give the jobs to Kiwis, first second third fourth before even thinking about overseas immigrants. A Kiwi worker pays taxes, buys stuff in NZ, and usually supports a Kiwi family. Us first, all immigrants second. It's time to look after us first. As jobs start drying up in Aussie many eyes are now turning to Christchurch. Keep it Kiwi."
Todd Caleb Ross agreed calling the idea "globalist garbage".
"Brash's ideology is to promote the 'freedom' of the already wealthy to capitalise further from the 'low wage economy'. His 'Act' is to support profit motive over all other values on behalf of NZ & overseas business leaders, having no regard for a minimum standard of living.
However, Brent Kingi rationalises saying that "it's not immigrants merely taking our jobs, it's that some locals don't want to work and would rather go on the dole than work."