5 May 2020

Immigration bill allowing broad visa changes: Lawyer calls for 'proper checks'

6:56 pm on 5 May 2020

Legislation introduced to Parliament this afternoon may bring hope to immigrants in turmoil because of Covid-19, an immigration lawyer says.

Passport stamp visa for travel concept background, New Zealand.

Passport stamp visa for travel concept background, New Zealand. Photo: 123RF

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced the bill yesterday, and it could go through its final stages in Parliament next Wednesday.

He said it would support more "efficient management" of visa changes.

"One of the practical challenges is to quickly manage visa changes for large numbers of migrants who are unable to leave New Zealand due to the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

The bill would allow the government to temporarily amend visa conditions for groups of people, extend their visas and waive certain regulatory requirements.

Immigration lawyer Lauren Qiu said it could potentially be a powerful tool.

"With INZ having a lower processing capacity during lockdown, this could allow for a faster way to provide solutions to those who are bound to their work visas with specific conditions," she said.

"It could offer faster solutions for migrants who are bound by their employer-specific visa conditions and have recently lost their jobs. They currently need to apply for and be granted a new work visa or a variation of conditions to update their existing visa before they can start their new job.”

Temporary-entry visas include student visas, visitor visas, and work visas, she said, and the new rules could allow for some "creative ways" for immigrants stuck in New Zealand to work and earn a living.

"While the proposed changes have the ability to help, it is important to note that they are also very robust powers and may hinder some visa categories," she added.

"One of the proposed changes is the ability to 'suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit expressions of interest in applying for visas by classes of people'.

"This could potentially prevent people from applying. For example it could mean that if strict border restrictions remain for a period of time, offshore applications may be put on hold."

Assurances were needed about checks and balances and about having a say in the legislation, Qiu said.

"There would be some benefit to consulting with those who understand what is happening in the current climate and what the practical implications would be," she said.

"I think before this actually happens, proper checks need to be put into place, they should consult key stakeholders, there needs to be an opportunity to review the entire bill."

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