COVID19’s Big Strike on Immigration- written by Zinnia Manchanda

When Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill first referenced in a Radio New Zealand article at 7:23pm on 4th May 2020, by the next morning on 5th May, there was already mass hysteria sweeping the migrant community scrambling for answers. As the day went on, we received more information, the Bill was published and it passed its First Reading.

6th May 2020. Today.

As I write this at 9:00am, reading the technical and the non-technical version of the Bill, it is clear how much this will change the immigration scene, even if its only for 12 months.

Not a dull moment in this industry when Labour is in power!

Lets deep dive. This Bill proposes to amend the Immigration Act 2009 to create more flexibility and ease with which large cohorts of applications can be treated and give the government power to be nimble enough to respond to the unique pressures placed by the pandemic.

In the words of the Immigration Minister:

 “The Bill will enable the government to amend visa conditions for groups of people, extend visas for groups of people for varying periods of time (enabling processing to be staggered), stop people overseas from making visa applications while it is not possible to travel to New Zealand due to border restrictions, and provide the ability to refuse entry to people who are deemed to hold a visa”

The original Immigration Act has provisions that were made when New Zealand had a much smaller migrant population, which makes it “clunky”! To put that into perspective, as of 27th April 2020, NZ had:

– 350,000 temporary visa holders onshore

– impacted by Covid19 are 200,400 on work visas, 74,800 on student visas, 56,500 on visitor visas

In the space of 2.5 months from 3rd Feb, INZ received a whopping 63,000 offshore visa applications who cannot travel to NZ (unless they qualify for border exemptions).

INZ’s ability to process visas has been heavily disrupted. It’s simply not practical for the Government to deal with every application individually when the issues for many large groups are the same – makes sense to tackle them together! The Bill aims to fix that.

Of the 8 powers introduced, which I delve into shortly, most can only be used for Covid19 response and automatically cancel after 12 months.

Largely, it looks to be that this Bill has the best interests of onshore migrants at its heart. Yes, offshore applications and some EOIs can no longer be submitted, but it’s not for long (3 months). One piece that will cause a large amount of relief for those that only recently went through the rigmarole of getting a visa approved and then couldn’t travel by the expiry date – is extensions these dates.

This does not change status quo – borders remain shut to all temporary visa holders, unless exempted. What it aims to do is allow more certainty and peace of mind to visa holders that when borders do open, or more exemption cohorts are announced in due course, their visa isn’t slipping away in the meantime.

The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent on 14 May 2020 and come into force the next day.

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