The Government has fast-tracked legislation to allow efficient response to immigration issues arising from the COVID-19 outbreak.
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 Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Act 2020 which enters into force today enables the government to amend visa conditions for groups of people and extend visas of groups of people for varying periods of time. For example the processing of any subsequent visa applications – should people need or want to stay longer, can then be staggered.
You can find the Immigration (COVID-19 Response), Amendment Bill, online here.
The following are some of the FAQ’s that have been provided to assist to explain how and when these powers will be applied.
Frequently Asked Questions
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 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: This Act will give the 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: 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.
If you have any questions, contact through: https://www.workingin-visas.co.nz/employers/