29 Nov 2022

'Doubling administration': Experts warn over work rights for migrants' partners

9:43 pm on 29 November 2022
Paul Spoonley

Massey University Professor Paul Spoonley says policy is too focused on individuals. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

A change to work rights for partners of migrants is going ahead next month in the face of concerns from immigration experts.

Until now, a partner could get an open work visa - but in the future only partners of green list workers will be able to do that.

Migrant couples will instead have to find accredited employers to sponsor applications for each of them - or have a partner who is able to visit but not work.

Immigration adviser Borey Chum wants the government to rethink the policy, saying it could lead to families choosing other countries to work in.

"I would like to see government doing a U-turn on their decision for some of the partners to get visitor visas instead of work visas. New Zealand is competing internationally for skilled migrants. If you're a family you want the right to work for both of you when you arrive. You're swamped with a lot of bureaucracy coming to New Zealand and to have more bureaucracy involved is not settling at all.

"And again, with another [visa] process means issues of resourcing. So the government are potentially hitting themselves with a stick in terms of being able to process the right for partners to have work visas so that they can work as a family and put food on the table."

Massey University Professor Paul Spoonley, who is co-chair of the International Metropolis Project looking at migration and integration, said Government immigration policy was focused on individuals, not families.

"I think this is often mistaken in our migration settings because we tend to focus on the prime applicant," he said. "And yet the reasons for coming to New Zealand often are about families. It worries me considerably that what we're doing is just doubling the amount of administration and approval that an applicant and their partner now are going to have to complete."

People were disincentivised when they were faced with barriers for partners or parents to join them, he said. The change would come at a bad time because of existing visa backlogs, including large volumes of residence applications.

"As we begin to see people applying to come to New Zealand, we've got this additional group, and what worries me is the capacity and the capability of Immigration New Zealand to process all of this in a timely manner."

Immigration minister Michael Wood said keeping open work visas for partners would run counter to its accredited employer work visas, which offered protection against workplace exploitation.

The Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI) said partners with visitor visas were also unable to access publicly funded healthcare, potentially putting them in a vulnerable position.

"The NZAMI is particularly concerned about the impact that this policy will have on migrant families and also on New Zealand businesses," said its chairperson Nicola Tiffen. "Indeed, every business I speak to about it is dismayed at the prospect of this policy change. It is very difficult, as it is, to persuade families to move to New Zealand, without the added disincentive of the spouse or partner not having work rights."

Immigration New Zealand said in a statement the Government was looking at the implementation date and working to get some more information out as soon as it could.

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