31 Aug 2022

Cabinet taken out of the loop on family reunification visas, papers show

8:27 pm on 31 August 2022

A briefing to the immigration minister shows he was advised to make a decision halting a family reunification policy without Cabinet discussion.

Residence visa application form

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Ministers decided in July last year to reunite overseas partners and children with temporary migrants through border exemptions.

But by the end of September, officials suggested that then immigration minister Kris Faafoi and Covid-19 response minister Chris Hipkins should reverse that decision and write to ministers to tell them.

"Cabinet invited you to report back on phasing for the original family reunification border exception which allowed all temporary migrants to bring eligible partners and dependants to New Zealand," said a briefing on 30 September, the date one-off residence visas were announced.

"In light of a subsequent decision on one-off residence for temporary migrant workers and the reduced need for a family reunification border exception, we do not believe it is necessary to report back to Cabinet on the phasing of family reunification.

"We suggest you advise your ministerial colleagues by letter of these changes and when you intend to announce them."

As RNZ reported this month, it came as a surprise to split families and their advocates that the government had been considering a move to give them priority - and that the policy had then been abandoned. Partners and children remain overseas because fewer than half of the new residence visas have been issued.

Last September's briefing now shows Immigration New Zealand (INZ) constraints and managed isolation were among the reasons the policy did not proceed.

"In our Cabinet advice on one-off residence options, we suggested establishing a limited border exception for partners and dependants offshore who had expired partnership visas or had applications lodged," it said.

"This would provide a pathway for some families to reunite before their residence application would be decided. The rationale for granting a border exception to these cohorts [estimated at around 5600 individuals] was that they had demonstrated a genuine intention to come to New Zealand.

"On reflection, with demand for MIQ spaces high and the visa processing resources required, we no longer recommend this family reunification border exception. Temporary migrant workers eligible for one-off residence will be able to include eligible partners and dependants in their residence visa application.

"Adding a possible 5600 partnership applications to the more than 110,000 potential applications for one-off residence will be difficult for Immigration New Zealand to operationalise."

It went on to discuss what would happen to families where a migrant did not meet the one-off residence criteria.

"There will be a cohort of temporary migrant workers who will not meet any of the 'settled, skilled or scarce' criteria eg a retail worker earning below the median wage who has been in New Zealand for two years. Those ineligible for one-off residence will not be able to bring their partners and dependants to New Zealand and we recognise that the current criteria for the family reunification border exception are difficult to meet.

"We consider the Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World framework, when it is operational, a better option for families to enter to New Zealand rather than continuing to tweak the margins of the border exceptions framework."

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