13 May 2021

Immigration Minister confronted at rally over border restrictions

7:08 pm on 13 May 2021

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi was shouted down at a rally of unhappy migrants today, as he revealed he could not give them the news they wanted to hear in their bid to loosen border restrictions.

A crowd took their grievances to Parliament, where they accused the Government of leaving them out in the cold due to Covid-19 border restrictions, with families separated, suffering financial hardship and vulnerable to exploitation.

The protest came ahead of a Parliamentary debate around New Zealand's immigration settings this afternoon.

British immigrant Charlotte de Riet Scholten-Phillips said she and her Dutch husband were among "the lucky ones" - they both have jobs and somewhere to live, and their daughter is able to go to school.

However, they were also stuck in limbo, unable to buy a home or even apply for a credit card while their residency application had yet to even make it into the queue.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi responds to upset migrants at a rally outside Parliament. Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas

"For someone like me, sitting in the expression of interest queue, we could be waiting five, six, seven years before we get residence, and that wasn't really the understanding that we came here on," said de Riet Scholten-Phillips.

"And it means we are constantly living a temporary life because you don't know how long you'll be able to stay. And that's OK when you're 25, it's not so great when you have kids."

The Federation of Aotearoa Migrants, which brings together a number of groups, is asking for two main things: residency visas for those on temporary work visas who would normally be eligible for residency, and phased re-entry of people stuck overseas who are separated from their families.

Last month the Immigration Minister finally gave the green-light for skilled workers to bring in their families - but only if their visas were active on April 30.

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Protesters speak out against border restrictions at a rally today. Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas

The visa for quantity surveyor Iresha Wijetunga's family expired exactly one month too early - she has not seen her two young children since last February.

"I am living now an empty and meaningless life without my husband and children."

Hutt Valley maths teacher Cameron Conradie's wife and son are in South Africa.

Even taking into account the new provisions for students, refugees, RSE and construction workers, there was plenty of space in managed isolation for their families, he argued.

"By simply using the last two weeks' worth of empty rooms, more than 1700 families could have been reunited."

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Protesters outside Parliament today. Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas

National's immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford said New Zealand was in danger of losing skilled migrants due to the backlog of residence applications.

"It is an artificial backlog caused by poor policy because they didn't set residence programme numbers and they are on a deliberate go-slow to meet an artificial number.

"You are here, you are paying your taxes, you are following the rules, you are good people, we value you and we don't want you to leave."

Faafoi told the protesters he felt their pain, but he was unable to give them the news they wanted.

"We are acutely aware of the disruption this is causing, and as I have said we will continue to look at ways to adjust border settings to safely accommodate people coming in."

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Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi addresses today's rally outside Parliament. Photo: RNZ/Dom Thomas

Protesters chanted "Use the power!" and "Not good enough!" as the minister handed back the microphone.

During a fiery debate later in Parliament, Faafoi faced calls from the Opposition for him to lose his job.

In a pre-Budget speech to Business New Zealand today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the Productivity Commission inquiry into immigration settings announced last week will sit alongside work by the Immigration Minister around reforms to temporary work visas and a review of the Skilled Migrant Category visa.

Faafoi would be outlining the case for change in a speech in Wellington on Monday, with the emphasis on attracting high skilled migrants and fixing skill shortages, she said.

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