Temporary pragmatic solutions to immigration challenges under COVID-19

As per the latest info, a bill to temporarily amend immigration legislation to support the quick and efficient management of visa changes during COVID-19 is being introduced to the New Zealand Parliament on 5th May 2020.

“The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill presents a sensible and practical solution to the rising challenges from the COVID-19 Pandemic for migrants in New Zealand and the New Zealand Government”, said Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway.

“One of the major challenges to be faced is to quickly manage visa changes for the large number of migrants who are unable to leave New Zealand due to the presently happening crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

This Bill coming into effect will largely enable the government to amend visa conditions for groups of people, extend visas for many for varying periods (enabling process to stagger), stop people overseas from making visa applications ready when it is not possible to travel to New Zealand due to border restrictions, and also enable the refusal of entry to people who are deemed to hold a visa.

“The changes thus introduced through the Bill will ensure that our immigration system is flexible and responsive enough to act during this emergency.

“The currently following Act’s small number of emergency provisions were introduced during such a time when New Zealand had much lower numbers of temporary migrants. Now we are also finding that the existing settings are not enough to respond appropriately where, for example, large numbers of visas need to be changed or extended all at once”, says Iain Lees-Galloway.

The current legislation is implied on individual applications managed on an individual basis. The Immigration Act also has a very limited ability to deal with applicants as a group or class of individuals.

The Bill introduces eight time-limited powers:

  1. To enforce, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders

  2. Vary or cancel condition for classes of resident class visa holders

  3. Extend the expiry dates of visas for different classes of people

  4. Grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the mere absence of an application

  5. Give up any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application

  6. Give up the requirement to obtain a transit visa

  7. Suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by various classes of people

  8. Dismiss the entry permission of people who arrive either on private aircraft or marine vessels (to align them right away with people who arrive on commercial flights, who can already be refused entry).

The Bill also recognizes that these are wide-ranging powers potentially affecting a large number of people. A range of safeguards will be applied, including that these powers expire 12 months after its enactment.

Image – Beehive, Wellington | © Michal Klajban/Wikimedia Commons

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