Elderly overstayers 'left in limbo' after visa freeze

10:58 am on 24 October 2017

Elderly people are facing deportation because they have been caught out by a change in immigration rules.

Auckland Airport

Under the parent visa category, migrants have to agree to financially support parents for five years. Photo: 123RF

Immigration lawyers said thousands of people are affected.

Five widows in their 80s are among the cases heard by immigration's independent appeals tribunal since the government froze the parent category last year.

Three of them were successful but the tribunal upheld deportation in the other two cases.

Immigration New Zealand said it has 647 overstayers aged 65 to 84 and four who are older than that.

Under the parent visa category, migrants have to agree to financially support parents for five years.

When he announced the visa freeze last year, the then-Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said many were failing to do so and this was costing the taxpayer tens of millions of dollars.

A report released earlier this year under the Official Information Act showed less than two percent of parents were taking up welfare payments.

The number of people approved under the parent category over the last five years varied from 3803 to 5968 while after the freeze it has fallen to about 400.

A portrait of immigration lawyer Alastair McClymont.

Alastair McClymont. Photo: Supplied.

An immigration lawyer, Alastair McClymont, said thousands of elderly parents had been left with no way out. He said the only people to speak out were those who had no options left and nothing left to lose.

"The immediate problem were people who had already applied under the parent category and had an expectation of how long their applications would take.

"Once the category was frozen they were basically stuck here and usually it was because they had made a commitment to live with their children here permanently and many of them have ended up being here without valid temporary visas or having to return to their own country without actually having a home to return to.

"The ones who have become unlawful have literally nothing to go back to. They just stay unlawfully basically for the rest of their lives and of course that has the effect of being unable to access proper medical care or other social services that they need but they sort of disappear into the system because they really have no other option. It's quite sad to see parents in that situation."

He said immigration officers do not often detain and deport elderly people, preferring that they deport voluntarily, "but some of them will spend a very long time and possibly the rest of their lives with this fear of being caught and being sent out of the country."

Appeals to the tribunal are only open to people who have been overstayers for less than 42 days. Otherwise their only recourse is an appeal to the associate minister of immigration.

An Immigration Policy Manager, Sian Roguski, said it does not have information "in a reportable format" on the number of appeals to the Minister to intervene in Parent Category cases.

She said work is continuing on the review of the Parent Category and recommendations are expected to be reported to the immigration minister by the end of the year.

'People were left in limbo'

An 88-year-old Englishwoman, Jane Edwardes, was staying with her daughter on visitor visas while she waited for her parent visa to be decided.

After the parent category freeze, she faced deportation and being placed in a care home in England, but successfully appealed to the immigration and protection tribunal.

Her lawyer, Peter Moses, said many people were not so lucky and some - not wanting to be a burden to their families with a costly appeal - have gone back to their home country.

He said it has been stressful for families since last October's announcement.

"People were left in limbo and a year later we still have no indication of what is going to happen," he said.

"While for some people a humanitarian appeal against deportation is an option for the vast majority of people it isn't.

"There is a clear compassionate reason why these people want to be here and why they should be here but it doesn't quite rise to that level of humanitarian exception.

"My view is that we need to ask ourselves what kind of society do we want to be? Do we want to enable families to support their families to come here? My suggestion is we should be."

June Ranson, chairperson of NZ Migration and Investment

June Ranson. Photo: Supplied

The chair of the Association of Migration and Investment, which represents immigration advisors, June Ranson, said there are many cases of elderly parents who were on long-term visitor visas when the policy change occurred and were not able to leave.

"It's very damaging to the family nucleus. Yes we are seeing that we are hearing lots of comments about that and it's not good," she said.

She said it was getting harder to attract skilled immigrants because many had expectations and sometimes cultural obligations that their parents could eventually join them.

Many parents had arrived on a multiple entry visa that allowed them to stay 18 months over a three-year period and until last year would use that as a stopgap until they were approved under the parent category.

"Some of these people who have in fact been in the country under this visa have suddenly found they have become too elderly to travel any further because things happen and for them to be suddenly moved off is very difficult. So special considerations do need to be given to this category," Ms Ranson said.

"They shouldn't become overstayers because if and when the parent category opens and these people are overstayers it is not going to help their cause to progress an application."

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs