Immigration (covid-19)Amendment Bill

Last night, the Minister of Immigration, introduced a Bill which was presented to Parliament today for its first reading. This Bill will become law on 15 May 2020 as The Minister wants some urgency around this.

The Bill affects temporary and resident visa holders. “This bill aims to ensure that the Government can respond appropriately and efficiently to the COVID-19 outbreak by providing additional flexibility in the immigration system.” The Minister made reference to a “timely and nimble system.

This is mostly likely in response to Immigration New Zealand 1000-staff being unable to work during the Alert Level 4 and Alert Level 3 lockdown. This Bill will allow Immigration New Zealand the ability to manage their workload in a more appropriate way.

What is concerning is, these powers will last for 12 months once the Bill is enacted [with a sunset clause]. Reference was made to have safeguards in place to protect migrants.

At present there are 350,000 temporary visa holder onshore in limbo:

  • 200,400 work visa holders (80,000 have had their work visas extended automatically through the Epidemic Management Notice);
  • 74,800 student visa holders, and
  • 56,500 visitor visa holders.

The Minister has stated this is in response to the covid-19 crisis and nothing else! These are humanitarian issues and should be treated as such.

This change to the immigration setting will be allowing the Minister extraordinary powers.

Below are the discretionary powers set by the Bill and how they will be used:

1. Impose, Vary or Cancel Conditions for Classes of Temporary Entry Class Visa Holders – intended to relax employment conditions, i.e. allowing an employee to be redeployed to a different employer or location more easily without an application.

2. Vary or Cancel Conditions for Resident Class Visa Holders – intended to allow offshore resident visa holders more time to enter New Zealand.

3. Extend Expiry Dates of Visas for Classes of People – to be used to extend visa expiry dates for persons offshore who may have been unable to travel to New Zealand within the validity of their visa.  i.e. this will allow the Minister to extend these visas up to six months.

4. Grant Visas to Classes or People or Individuals in the Absence of an Application – ability to grant a visa to an individual who may be unable to make an application (e.g. Whakaari/White Island volcanic eruption, severe illness). These are exceptional circumstances.

5. To Waive any Regulatory Requirements for Certain Classes of Application – waive fees or other application requirements that may currently be impractical to meet.

6. To Waive the Requirement to Obtain a Transit Visa in an Individual Case – waive transit visa requirements for individuals who have humanitarian reasons for transiting through New Zealand to get to another country.

7. To Suspend the Ability of Classes of People to Make Applications for Visas or to Submit Expressions of Interests in Applying for Visas – suspend new applications for particular visa categories until global border restrictions are loosened and applicants are able to travel to New Zealand i.e. the suspension period may not exceed three months.

8. To Revoke the Entry Permission of a Person who has been Deemed by Regulations to Hold a Visa and to have been Granted Entry Permission – prevent private aircraft crew with deemed entry permission who are not complying with PPE requirements from entering New Zealand.