Asylum seekers still facing visa delays raises lawyer's suspicions

12:05 pm on 14 January 2020

Asylum seekers still face undue delays getting visas in what an Auckland lawyer believes may be an attempt from Immigration New Zealand to deter applicants.

Visa application form to travel Immigration a document Money for Passport Map and travel plan

Photo: 123RF

Immigration staff worked through the holiday period to clear a backlog of visas for asylum seekers struggling with new requirements to provide and pay for medical and police checks.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) apologised and introduced measures to ease the requirements, but Auckland lawyer Simon Laurent said the process was still harder than it needed to be.

"For instance if they did not have an acceptable standard of health they can't be forced to leave the country anyway, so why require them to get that in the first place in order for them to get the visa?"

People were being left in a limbo because of the requirement, he said, and it could also be harder for refugees to seek a police check because the government of their country of origin may regard them as a persona non grata.

"This may be even more critical ... making the request identifies first of all where that person is - say, in New Zealand - and secondly, that may be making a request for a visa to be here.

"If they are a person with a profile in that country, the government of that country or that agency could know or suspect they are making a claim and furthermore this could put the family or close associates of that person at risk, because they are still back in that country."

He said he had heard of "awful stories" from colleagues about refugees becoming suicidal.

"First of all nothing that they can do for themselves, they're waiting for the outcome of a very traumatic and stressful process and they've already - if they are genuine in their claims - already suffered traumas which they are essentially having to relive while waiting in limbo.

He said INZ had claimed the requirement was intended to make asylum seeker applications consistent with other types of applications.

"However, the point is these people who are making these claims are not in the same situation as someone just coming to work and study in the country. They have a particular reason that they are here which singles them out ... the other distinctive feature about them is they can't be removed from the country if they don't get the visa until their claim is determined."

He said he had a suspicion that the requirements were a way to deter people seeking asylum in New Zealand.

"It is perhaps being uncharitable to Immigration to suggest this but I have seen other things that have been done in the more distant past which have been aimed at deterring people from claiming asylum in the first place.

"This might be an attempt to send a signal to out of the country that 'it is not much fun trying to make a refugee or protection claim in New Zealand, so go somewhere else'."

INZ rejected those claims in a statement from acting border and visa operations manager Jock Gilray.

"The changes were made to ensure that asylum claimants meet immigration instructions as detailed in INZ's Operational Manual," he said.

"It is also important that any potential health risks posed by unscreened applicants to New Zealand's public health are minimised."

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