12 Oct 2022

Govt gets no brownie points for reopening parent and skilled migrant residence visas

8:30 pm on 12 October 2022
Residence visa application form

Immigration minister Michael Wood has announced parent and skilled migrant residence visas will restart. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Major immigration changes have received mixed reactions from migrants and their advocates.

Immigration minister Michael Wood has announced parent and skilled migrant residence visas will restart next month.

Migrants who want their parents to join them in New Zealand as residents said that joy over the visa programme reopening had turned to disappointment.

Carole Barker, whose mother Norah Cheetham is 89 next month, set up a support group for families.

She said her initial joy that the visa programme was being reopened turned to sadness as she realised she and her architect husband would not qualify under the salary threshold.

"There have been so many families in limbo since 2016 and it does mean now, at last, things can progress for quite a lot of those families," Barker said.

"They have certainty, they can make plans, have a good idea and vision what they can do with their parents. But there are still many of us - older children - who cannot get their parents into NZ and that is very distressing."

Salary requirements for sponsors did not take into account income and assets that parents have, she said.

They were now having to consider winding up their business and moving back to the UK, having lived in New Zealand for 18 years.

She said parents who had applied under the suspended visa programme had died in the six years that had passed, and it would take about five years to clear the backlog of applicants.

"We're very firmly settled, our life is New Zealand. And we don't have an innate desire to return to the UK. But now mum is on her own. We can get her over for a six-month holiday, but at 89 years old to keep sending her back? Psychologically and physically it's not going to work."

Migrant advocate and immigration advisor, Anu Kaloti, said she was glad the skilled migrant category had reopened. But increasing the points requirement to 180 was not welcome news, she said, as not all professions were being treated equally.

Ricardo Menendez March of Auckland Action Against Poverty

Green Party immigration spokesman Ricardo Menéndez March Photo: Supplied

Green Party immigration spokesman Ricardo Menéndez March said the new residence policy risked creating a two-tier immigration system, with highly skilled migrants becoming residents and "guest workers" who have no long-term future.

"We want the parent category visa to be free from discrimination based on income and for the government to genuinely commit to reimagining the immigration system, so it centres on the rights of workers rather than just the needs of businesses.

"What is really clear, with no planning range and reliance on schemes such as RSE and working holiday makers, we are relying on migrants on lower wages who may not have pathways to remain here."

National party spokesperson Erica Stanford said the announcement was overdue and underwhelming.

"Serious questions need to be asked about why this reopening of an existing visa category couldn't have occurred months ago. National has persistently called on the government to open the Skilled Migrant Category to support Kiwi businesses during the worst labour shortage in 50 years.

"The government's decision to keep the Skilled Migrant Category closed all year meant the skilled workers that businesses are short of, such as chefs, pharmacists and physios, had no pathway to residence.

"While the government failed to take action, the skilled workers we needed continued to snub New Zealand for other countries such as Australia, which never even closed this category."

Stanford also wanted to know how immigration officials were going to cope with visa processing given the existing backlog.

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