7 Jul 2020

Expiring visas: Immigration Minister under pressure to extend visas

3:00 pm on 7 July 2020

Organisations representing a cross section of New Zealand industries are alarmed that no decision has been made on the fate of thousands of temporary workers with visas about to expire.

Ian Lees-Galloway making the announcement on the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme.

Photo: RNZ / Charlie Dreaver

"We're talking about hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for answers," Malcolm Pacific Immigration director David Cooper said.

He said the Minister of Immigration had all the information and legislative powers necessary to manage the problem but was yet to make a decision about whether to cancel or extend visas.

"The people who are overseas, who are holding visas, they're not being given answers either, and you've just got to say, let's get on and give these people the answer that they want," Cooper said.

There were about 350,000 temporary visa holders in the country during the lockdown, and the government estimated more than 200,000 of them had work visas with conditions that might need to be varied.

However, Immigration New Zealand was not renewing or issuing any new visas until it was satisfied there was no citizen or permanent resident available to do the applicant's job.

That was much easier to demonstrate in the first three months of the year when unemployment was about 4 percent, compared with current rates, which were estimated to have risen to more than 7 percent over the past three months and likely to peak around 9 percent by the end of the year.

The government had fast-tracked the Immigration (Covid-19 response) Amendment Act, mid-May, in response to the crisis with flexibility to vary or cancel conditions for groups or classes of temporary visa holders.

"The government's been given the advice. The minister has been given the powers under the act, and people are waiting for answers," Cooper said.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said there were still a number of issues to work through.

"We are working on policy changes to provide some short and medium-term certainty and I'm looking to make announcements as soon as I can, but the sorts of things that we've been considering are whether it would be appropriate to extend visas after the 25th of September," he said adding he was also looking at extending visas due to expire before 25 September.

Lees-Galloway said the government was also looking to extend the visas of thousands of workers on 36-month visas, who would would need to leave the country at the end of August and be unable to reapply for their job for at least one year.

However, in the meantime, he said employers could keep those temporary workers on three-year visas, if they paid them at least the $25 median wage.

FRENZ Recruitment & Immigration director Christiaan Arns said that was not an answer.

"I'm somewhat puzzled how any minister can go and stand in front of the community of small business owners and tell them that they had to increase wages for people they want to keep by 25 percent, or they have to send them home, with closed borders due to Covid-19," Arns said.

"To ignore the fact that we can't actually replace these workers, because the borders are closed, and just closing your eyes to the fact that there will not be enough New Zealanders to fill those positions, is really putting an incredible pressure on the industry.

"And as far as I'm concerned, there has been no clear message from the minister, about how he intends to apply the recent changes of the immigration bill to the situation."

David Cooper said there was no reason for the ongoing situation.

"There's a lot of people really hurting because they're not being given guidance, or decisions, and that's all they're asking for."

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