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Overstayers express concern over Labour’s amnesty pledge

1:45 pm on 28 September 2023
Labour leader Chris Hipkins speaking at the party's immigration announcement on 23 September, 2023.

Photo: RNZ / Giles Dexter

The Labour Party's proposal for a one-off regularisation programme for individuals who have overstayed their visas for at least 10 years has received mixed reaction among overstayers.

While some have expressed approval of the policy, many have called for greater clarity and transparency in the process.

Amandeep, an overstayer, voiced his skepticism.

"It seems like they are playing politics and using us," he said.

Amandeep qualifies for amnesty under the proposal, but he questioned the timing of Labour's announcement, pointing out that the party had ample opportunity to introduce such an amnesty during its six-year tenure in government.

The Labour Party has underscored its commitment to granting amnesty to overstayers as a top priority, pledging to implement it within the first hundred days if it retains power after the election.

Amandeep believes the government had both the capacity and responsibility to assist overstayers during the challenging times of Covid-19.

He said the recent amnesty pledge might be inconsequential, especially given Labour's current low polling numbers.

Amandeep also expressed dissatisfaction with the 10-year threshold, arguing that it is unfair to others in similar situations.

He said that providing amnesty to these individuals, who simply seek a better life, would be a compassionate choice.

"There is no harm in giving these people amnesty," he said. "All they want is a good life."

Vijender, another overstayer, shared Amandeep's concern about the 10-year threshold.

While he would qualify for Labour's one-off amnesty, he expressed concern that this criterion might leave many others vulnerable to exploitation.

Vijender also questioned the timing of Labour's announcement, wondering why it didn't introduce such a policy when it held a clear majority government.

He believed the pledge created a false hope for overstayers and accused political parties of playing games with their lives.

"This is very sad," he said.

Arunima Dhingra is the chairperson of NZ Association of Migration and Investment.

Arunima Dhingra is the chairperson of NZ Association of Migration and Investment. Photo: Supplied

Lack of stability

Arunima Dhingra, chairperson of the NZ Association of Migration and Investment, said politics played too large a role in the country's immigration policies.

She said political parties have been using immigration as a tool, tweaking the policy every year and, as a result, making it difficult for everyone. Dhingra argued that New Zealand needed greater stability when it came to such policies.

"If you just look at the skilled migrant category, one party comes in and says we're going to simplify it," she said. "The other party comes to power in the next term and says, 'We're not happy with it, so we are going to change it again'. What does this do to our brand globally?"

Dhingra believed in giving people a second chance but blamed the parties for a lack of details in their policies.

She also worried about the other side of amnesty - by which people might be tempted to dodge the system to remain in the country legally.

"It's about striking that balance," she said.

Greens back amnesty

In the RNZ Pacific Issues debate on 25 September, Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni said the amnesty announcement should not be interpreted as an attempt to manipulate voters.

"You have to think about everything that has been expected of Immigration New Zealand in the last couple of years and the immense pressure that it has been under," she said.

The Green Party has expressed support for an amnesty for overstayers.

Ricardo Menéndez March, immigration spokesperson for the Greens, expressed disappointment on Facebook with Labour's decision to make the amnesty dependent on the election outcome.

He said the Greens wanted to offer amnesty to most overstayers, except those posing a security risk. The party also aimed to revamp the immigration system and tackle the main cause of overstaying - the lack of pathways to residency.

The Greens are worried about Labour's election promise, which require people to have lived in New Zealand as an overstayer for 10 years to be eligible for the amnesty.

The party said people staying in the country without a valid visa are vulnerable to exploitation and lack access to public services.

Menéndez March stressed the need to review visa policies for our regional partners, improve partner immigration rights and establish a clear path to residency for migrant workers.

Such an approach aimed to prevent people from becoming undocumented visa holders in the first place, he said.

Neither National nor ACT would support an amnesty for overstayers.

* The names of the overstayers featured in this report have been changed to protect their identity.

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