Immigration laws need stability, says adviser group

By Rayssa Almeida of RNZ.co.nz and is republished with permission

Immigration laws in New Zealand are loose and need to be more consistent, says an immigration adviser association.

National, ACT and Labour all launched immigration policies targeting migrant parents and grandparents yesterday, with Labour also promising amnesty for overstayers who have been in the country for 10 years or more.

The New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment (NZAMI) Chair Arunima Dhingra argued that frequent changes to immigration policies were undermining their objectives.

“What we as a country need is stability. Our policies have chopped and changed so many times over the years that it has almost become a mishmash of so many policies.”

She said without consistency, new immigration laws would not be fit for purpose.

“There’s a lot of things that we hear close to [the] elections and there’s a lot of promises. But what’s going to stick? What’s going to come out? What’s going to be implemented?

“Or is it going to turn out to be another Accredited Employer Work visa scheme where the implementation didn’t deliver the objective. Time will tell.”

All the parties announced immigration policies targeting migrant parents and grandparents, with National allowing relatives to visit family members in New Zealand for five years, with the possibility of renewal for another five years.

Dhingra said NZAMI had been advocating for the changes for a while.

“That’s been something that’s been in the making for many years, but it’s only just coming out now, just a few weeks from the election.

“It’s taken multiple governments a long time to come to that long term visa. It’s here now, so whoever comes to power, we know that there will be a visitor visa for parents who have been waiting for a long time.”

She said changes to Parent Visa legislation were long overdue.

“We are quite late on a lot of policies, and I have no qualms about saying that we have been telling the government officials for a long time that New Zealand does need to allow parents to have a smoother transition when they want to come here.”

High volumes of policy changes were weakening the credibility of New Zealand policies, Dhingra said.

“It does have a huge detriment on the New Zealand brand to the rest of the world, who want to believe in the credibility of our policies.

“You don’t want too many changes, you want that ‘business as usual’ state for New Zealand.

Dhingra said immigration laws shouldn’t be used as political footballs.

“I say these campaigns and announcements are on steroids, because we are two and a half weeks away from the elections, and the campaigns are obviously full formed.

“What we’re finding is that a lot of these policies have been brewing in the background for a while. The big question is [if] a lot of these [policies] have been escalated because of the election or not.”

Labour leader Chris Hipkins speaking at the party's immigration announcement on 23 September, 2023.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins speaking at the party’s immigration announcement yesterday. Photo: RNZ / Giles Dexter

‘Wrong message’ – Amnesty Visa Policy

If re-elected, the Labour Party promised amnesty for overstayers who have been in the country for 10 years or more.

Up to 20,000 people could be eligible for regularisation.

Dhingra said giving overstayers amnesty could send the wrong message for those planning to come to New Zealand.

“We don’t want to be looked at as a country where [if] you’ve become unlawful, you can stay here for 10 years, find your way through the system, and have a residency pathway because you’ve got this amnesty.

“But at the same time, we do want to be seen as a humanitarian fair country. Those people that really can’t get out of that system and it’s no fault of theirs. [People who] have tried everything or the issue it’s generations down the line, you do want to give them a second chance.”

Dhingra said the details and requirements of the amnesty policy should be specific.

“Who will qualify, what are the requirements, what’s the threshold, what have you done all of these years to rectify your status?

“Those things will then tell how good or bad these policies are.”

Dhingra said the government should not drop the threshold of those eligible for amnesty.

“If you drop the bar really low with that amnesty, it does send out the wrong message.

“We want people to do the right thing, work towards rectifying their status, work towards getting residency.”

The first fights from across the Tasman landed in New Zealand after the border reopened on 13 April 2022.

File photo. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

‘Window dressing for votes’ – Migrant Workers Association

The Migrant Workers Association President Anu Kaloti said the amnesty overlooked thousands of people let down by overly restrictive immigration policies.

“All of the people who are here without visas currently, they arrived in New Zealand on valid visas going back five years, 10 years.

“At that time, we had too many colleges and shop fronts for bringing people in, and those colleges got closed down and ended the process. The students ended up with nothing.”

She said Labour’s promise was a window dressing for votes.

“There will be very little uptake and benefit if they are going to limit it to people who’ve been here 10 years or more.

“There are people who’ve been here less time than that and those people also have children born here so that this will again leave a lot of people in need behind.”

Labour pledged that the amnesty policy would make good on the Dawn Raids apology, but Kaloti said the party had nearly two years since apologising for the Dawn Raids to do the right thing.

She said National and Act’s immigration policies were treating people without visas as illegal immigrants who arrived the country by boat.

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