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Kevin List: An Audience With Lianne Dalziel (I)

Interview By Kevin List

An Audience With Lianne Dalziel (Part 1)

Seemingly every week there is some new developments in the vexed policy area of immigration policy and administration. This week two major developments related to the portfolio have just occurred. The question of who was to look after detained refugee Ahmed Zaoui and his ‘human rights’ was debated at the Court of Appeal. In the same week the Government announced a $40 million dollar cash injection to try and attract more fee-paying foreign students to New Zealand. In this interview with Scoop's Kevin List, former Immigration Minister Hon Lianne Dalziel sheds some light on a policy area often clouded by murky political point scoring.

The Fee-Paying Foreign Student ‘Boom’

In the last decade or so there has been a marked increase in the number of Asian students studying in various New Zealand tertiary institutions. One country in particular has provided the vast majority of fee-paying students – China.

“The Chinese Government changed the numbers about approvals to leave the country in the mid 90s and New Zealand benefited from that,” says Dalziel.

Interestingly the legislation that brought in the Security Risk Certificate provisions in 1999 – the Immigration Amendment Act – also paved the way for the huge influx of fee paying Chinese students.

“In the 1999 Amendment Act there were provisions for limited purpose permits and bonds. They needed the limit purpose permits so that they could take some risks about bringing in Chinese students.”

The New Zealand Immigration Service website proclaims Iran and China as being two countries whose fee paying students benefited from these permits. However New Zealand has not seen a huge upsurge of fee-paying students from the Persian gulf.

“These were specifically designed for the Chinese market", says Dalziel. "They have been used in other contexts as well. It was to ensure that Chinese students didn’t come down and claim refugee status. Not that they would do that. If [New Zealand] was going to bring in Chinese students, then it was necessary to make sure that they were going to stick to the terms of their permits. And that they leave when they are required to do so. "

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The Downside of the Fee-paying Boom

It has recently been reported that some 150 of these fee-paying students have gone AWOL. However this number is probably dwarfed by the number of British backpackers who stay a wee bit longer. Unfortunately, as evidenced with a number of high profile traffic accidents involving loss of life, there can be a downside to the rapid growth that has occurred in this area.

Question: "At the time (1999), did you think the Minister [Tuariki Delamere] was looking at what might have happened to transport, infrastructure etc?"

Answer: “No”

That said, it seems the former Minister was herself taken somewhat unaware by just how fast and how quickly this ‘market’ has boomed.

“The numbers that came in for international education purposes rose dramatically without warning. The flow-on effects of that were certainly taken into account in terms of numbers and assessing impacts on wider immigration policy. It was certainly taken into account in developing a code of practice. That was all done through education [though] - rather than immigration.”

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Immigration and Political Point Scoring

While as a Minister Dalziel would often face barrages of invective from the Rt Hon Winston Peters, it seems that National and their supposedly "inconsistent policies" irritated Dalziel more whilst in office.

“The National Party has been entirely inconsistent since I’ve been the Minister depending upon what I’ve done.”

An example of this, according to Dalziel, was the National Party’s attitude to a large group of "Chinese Indonesians" who had attempted to gain refugee status in New Zealand.

“In 1998 a number of Chinese Indonesians travelled to New Zealand and claimed refugee status as a result of some riots that specifically targeted Chinese Indonesians. Several hundred of them lodged claims for refugee status. I always regarded it as somewhat ironic that the National Party who were responsible for the huge backlog of refugee claims complained after the [would be refugees'] claims were turned down by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority.”

Both Pansy Wong and current National Immigration spokesperson Dr Wayne Mapp wrote letters asking Dalziel to intercede on the behalf of the failed refugee applicants.

“The RSAA did a test case and published it so that people would know that they were wasting their time if they were claiming as a basis for their refugee claims the riots in 1998. You can’t ask a country for permanent protection if you are no longer in need of that protection. The National Party took what I considered a totally inconsistent position on this. I think they did that because Pansy Wong took up the case.”

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Global Security ‘Awareness’.

During the time Dalziel was Minister the number of refugee claims dropped dramatically. If the numbers continue declining there will be less than half the number claiming refugee status as there were at the start of the fourth Labour Government’s first term.

“I suspect that New Zealand has benefited from an increased awareness of global security.”

Part of the increased awareness of global security has resulted in the Advanced Passenger Processing scheme.

“Advanced passenger processing will be very effective at the point of boarding the plane. That’s where you get to match the information in the visa with the information in the passport.”

According to Dalziel this will increase New Zealand’s safety in an unstable global village.

“I think New Zealand has been put at risk by people who travel on false passports,” she says.

Question: But whilst this system appears to have reduced spontaneous refugees claiming asylum, given neither the 9/11 terrorists or Bali bombers fitted that category, are we really any safer, particularly with the booming international education market?

“They all have to come on visas. The ones [international students] you would be nervous about are from visa required countries. I think Saudi [Arabia] is still visa free. Other countries like Iran are visa required. In order to come to New Zealand, even as a visitor you would need a visa. And if you are coming as a student you - even from a visa free country - you have to get a student visa to travel to New Zealand. You can’t get a student permit at the border unless you’ve got a student visa in your passport. All coming visa-free means is that you will get a three month visitor permit.”

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The Immigration Mix

Through the 1990s and since 2000 the bulk of new, New Zealand residents have come from the United Kingdom, China, India and South Africa. Evidently this mix is a tough cookie to bake at times.

“The mix got very out of kilter in the last couple of years. That was largely driven on the nature of the skilled migrant category, and the fact the family sponsored category favoured those from very small families. Particularly those with one child families.”

The skilled migrant category has now been tweaked to give a better mix.

“The skilled migrant category has changed the mix. It has definitely prioritised those who are already working in skilled employment in New Zealand.”

Alongside the United Kingdom, South Africa has been a veritable goldmine of population renewal for New Zealand. However, whilst a spell in jail for membership in the African National Congress, may not look too flash on a residents application, working for BOSS (the Bureau Of State Security) during the 70s and 80s is no such impediment.

“Residency applications require character and health checks. Character requirements’ are usually met through the production of Police certificates…South Africa has been through a truth and reconciliation commission which is where they agreed legal action wouldn’t be taken for those who fronted up and apologised to those that had been the victims of atrocities.”

In the future Dalziel predicts the dutifully fee-paying overseas students may play a large part in the make-up of New Zealand society. Thus through the immigration points system there may be an added carrot for those international students who make the grade.

“I think that the non-English speaking skilled background migrant category in future will come from international education [students] - those that complete degree courses in New Zealand and then find skilled employment.”

(In Part II of this Interview on Monday Dalziel will address issues related to the Ahmed Zaoui case and how New Zealand treats refugees.)

***** ENDS *****

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