The Immigration (Covid-19 Response) Amendment Bill passed its Second and Third Readings on Wednesday 13 May.
These temporary immigration legislation amendments are intended to support the quick and efficient management of visa changes during COVID-19 and the Minister of Immigration has assured the migrant community in New Zealand that the Government will not use the powers in this Act to take away any existing visa rights.
The following are Frequently Asked Questions put together by INZ related to the passing of the Bill:
Q: Does this Act give Government sweeping powers to make changes to visas?
A: This Act gives the Minister the ability to make changes to visas in order to respond to the immediate challenges posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. These changes could include amending visa conditions for groups of people such as what region they can work in, or extending visa expiry dates for groups of people. The new powers cannot be used to change conditions if that change would materially disadvantage the class of visa holders concerned. The Minister is not obliged to use any of the powers.
Q: How can this Act effectively safeguard migrant welfare?
A: The Act requires the Minister of Immigration to be satisfied, before making a special direction affecting a class of people, that doing so will not materially disadvantage the class of people concerned. This is provides another standard against which the use of the powers must be assessed. It is an effective safeguard because it means that the Minister would not be able to use the powers in a way that materially deprives visa holders of existing visa rights (e.g. work rights).
Q: Is the Government doing this because it plans to cancel the visas of migrants who have made New Zealand their home and are working/studying lawfully?
A: There are no such plans. This Act presents a pragmatic solution to practical challenges arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic for migrants in New Zealand and the New Zealand Government. Several hundred thousand people on temporary entry class visas are in New Zealand at present – too many to easily deal with on an individual basis when the system is so disrupted. These powers are to enable the Government to respond appropriately and efficiently by providing additional flexibility in the immigration system.
Q: The Act gives the Minister the power to impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders. Will visas be cancelled?
A: The Act does not give the power to revoke temporary entry class visas. In addition, the new powers cannot be used to change conditions if that change would materially disadvantage the class of visa holders concerned.
Q: The Act gives the Minister the power to vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders. Will this be used to cancel people’s residency?
A: The Act does not give the power to revoke resident or permanent resident visas. In addition, the new powers cannot be used to change conditions if that change would materially disadvantage the class of visa holders concerned.
Q: This Act will give Government the power to suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by classes of people. Does this mean that migrants in New Zealand with family offshore cannot apply to be reunited in New Zealand?
A: It will be possible for the Minister to recommend that Cabinet agree to a temporary suspension, for up to three months, of certain classes of applications from being made by people overseas while it is not possible to travel to New Zealand due to border restrictions. This amendment is temporary to help manage the impacts of COVID-19, and to not give people false hope that if they are granted a visa they will be able to use it.
Q: Does this Act have transparency and accountability in the special direction making powers?
A: The Act has strong limits and safeguards on when the powers can be used. Transparency and accountability is also built in through the requirement that special directions affecting classes of people be published on the Department’s website and the New Zealand Gazette, and tabled in the House of Representatives. The House can by resolution disallow these special directions in whole or in part.
Q: How do you intend to use the powers in the Act? When do you intend to use them?
A: The Minister will be taking advice on if, how and when to exercise the powers in the Bill over the coming weeks. No decisions have been made.
Q: How many people could these powers impact?
A: There were approximately 350,000 temporary visa holders onshore on 27 April 2020.
- Over 200,000 have work visas whose visa conditions may need to be varied as we respond to the effects of COVID-19.
- Over 70,000 are student visa holders whose visa conditions may need to be relaxed, to enable them to change their course or work extra hours until education providers are able to reopen.
- Over 56,000 are on visitor visas, who may need to have their expiry date extended if flights out of New Zealand continue to be unavailable.
As at 27 April 2020, over 20,000 skilled migrant resident visa holders were onshore (where their residence start date was on or after 27 April 2018).
Between 3 February (when border restrictions started) and 20 April 2020, Immigration New Zealand received over 63,000 offshore applications for temporary visas. Roughly half of those applications were for visitor visas. These people will be unable to travel to New Zealand for some time to come.
Q: Does this mean that the Government is going to let migrants get jobs ahead of New Zealanders?
A: The Minister will be taking advice on if, how and when to exercise the powers in the Bill over the coming weeks. No decisions have been made. The Government is very aware of the needs of New Zealanders who have been affected by the outbreak, as well as the welfare of migrants.
Q: What is the Government doing to ensure that INZ is able to cope with an influx of applications?
A: The powers in the Bill will give the Government the flexibility to deal with some visas in bulk, and will therefore assist with greater administrative efficiency at this time.