The Minister of Immigration is today presenting an urgent Immigration Bill to Parliament, which will significantly increase its power to react to the current Covid-19 crisis, for a period of 12 months.
The press release calls the bill a “temporary pragmatic solution to Immigration challenges”. At first glance, the effects of the bill could well be positive for migrants already in New Zealand, especially those on temporary visas who have lost their jobs and are unable to return to their home countries due to border closures.
The press release states, “one of the practical challenges is to quickly manage visa changes for large numbers of migrants who are unable to leave New Zealand due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” It is our belief that the Government will be looking to lift some of the employer specific conditions of work visas to allow migrant workers to support themselves for a period of time until the borders of their home countries open again. This will also allow areas of the New Zealand economy that are dependent on migrant labour to source workers from within the country’s borders in the short term. The dairy industry is an example – unemployed New Zealanders are unlikely to take up options for work on dairy farms in the South Island in time for the new dairy season starting 1 June 2020.
Furthermore, the Bill will allow Immigration New Zealand to act quickly to normalize the immigration status of many foreigners who are currently unlawfully in New Zealand due to border closures.
Immigration New Zealand will also likely use this bill to catch up on the massive backlog application processing that started well before the Covid-19 crisis and that was exacerbated by a complete absence of business continuity processes, which effectively stopped all visa application processing for the past 6 weeks.
However, the wide-ranging powers this Bill gives the Immigration Minister is worrying, especially in an environment where the emphasis will certainly be on jobs for New Zealanders first. It is unlikely that New Zealand First will allow much flexibility for migrant workers especially in an election year. It is possible that the Bill will be used to dramatically reduce New Zealand’s cohort of temporary visa holders. Clear checks and balances will be required for this Bill to be passed.
The Prime Minister has been vocal about Australia’s treatment of New Zealanders who have lived and worked in Australia for a long period of time. We trust that she will show leadership in supporting the migrant workers that fill so many of the “essential” roles in this country.
Call us to discuss your immigration requirements – our team of 8 Licensed Advisers will guide you through what you need to know.
Summary of the Bill’s eight time-limited powers:
- to impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders
- vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders
- extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people
- grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application
- waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application
- waive the requirement to obtain a transit visa
- suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by classes of people
- revoke the entry permission of people who arrive either on private aircraft or marine vessels (to align them with people who arrive on commercial flights, who can already be refused entry).
By Vanessa Sharratt
Licensed Immigration Adviser and Director