Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway. Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

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Immigration lawyers have called on the government to use emergency powers to allow emergency payments to immigrants, but say there may be some hope in new laws before Parliament.

The legislation may bring hope to immigrants suffering because of the  Covid-19,  immigration lawyer Lauren Qiu said.

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

Qiu said this could include migrants who have recently lost their jobs and want to apply for a variation of conditions so they can update their visa.

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.

It is not known whether the new legislation will do anything for overstayers.

Meanwhile, immigration adviser Alain Koetsier has called on Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni to implement a section of the Social Security Act, enacted for epidemic situations, to allow emergency welfare payments to immigrants.

If they run out of money, then they effectively have very little recourse other than potentially turning to the unlawful job market, and working under the table,” Koetsier told Radio New Zealand.

“If they do that, not only do they expose themselves to slave-like work conditions, but they drive down wages for New Zealand workers, and New Zealand businesses can expect to be undercut by competitors who use cheap or free migrant labour, so it has very negative consequences for the entire New Zealand economy.

“These workers may remain unlawfully employed for many years, fearful of approaching authorities lest they be punished. We could see a large underclass of illegal workers become entrenched in the New Zealand economy in the long term.”

Koetsier’s comments echo Kaniva News’s call for the government to offer a blanket amnesty covering the period of the Covid-19 epidemic to allow them to access the full range of services.

Many have lost their jobs because of the lockdown and information on government websites indicates they have no automatic right to financial help.

For many Tongan overstayers, the cultural practice of fe’inasi’aki, where families and relatives share whatever they have when things are hard, is their only hope.

Unfortunately, this can mean that families who may already be facing financial difficulties are expected to make unrealistic sacrifices.

It can also mean that families are crowded together in inadequate housing, where it is easier for the virus to spread.

Treatment in confidence

Meanwhile, Immigration New Zealand has said if overstayers seek medical advice during the Covid-19 epidemic their treatment would be in complete confidence.

The department’s principal communications advisor, Yvette McKinley made the statement in response to a query from Tongan Lawyer ‘Amelia Schaaf.

“It is imperative that anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 contacts  Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or their doctor immediately,” McKinley said.

A person’s immigration status would not affect their ability to receive COVID-19 related health care.

“People unlawfully in New Zealand should seek medical advice if they are unwell,” she said.

“Their treatment will be in complete confidence and their information will not be passed on to other agencies.”

The main points

  • Immigration lawyers have called on the government to use emergency powers to allow emergency payments to immigrants, but say there may be some hope in new laws before Parliament.
  • The legislation may bring hope to immigrants suffering because of the Covid-19,  immigration lawyer Lauren Qi said.

For more information

Covid-19: Jobless immigrants face poverty, deportation, exploitation – immigration adviser

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