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What's Going Wong: Respecting immigration rules

What's Going Wong: Respecting the immigration rules

Respecting the immigration rules

The Honourable Damien O'Conner disclosed a few months ago that he had reviewed over 4000 immigration and visa cases in one year as the Associate Minister of Immigration. This comment was made at a function I was attending and was probably meant to illustrate how hard working the Minister was.

Upon hearing this figure I was horrified to learn that every single day O'Connor would have had to review around 12 files, and possibly intervene in decisions made by the New Zealand Immigration Service or other appeal authorities.

I suggested to the Minister that perhaps he should review the policies or processes that prompted this high number of appeals, however, this didn't go down well with some immigration consultants who were also at the same function. Some said that reviewing 4000 cases was a sign of hard work while others raised valid reasons for the situation, such as the lack of scope that Immigration Service staff members and appeal authorities have to exercise their own discretion.

The recent revelation that three Labour Ministers made hundreds of these requests also came as a shock. In the last three years, Taito Phillip Field made 438, Chris Carter 176, and George Hawkins made 172. Following this information being made public the Prime Minister was adamant in defending her Ministers, while some officials said that the number of appeals made was due to the ethnic mix of their electorates.

I happen to have a nationwide electorate consisting of thousands and thousands of Asian people. Every day my office receives requests from people wanting help in their immigration cases, with most asking for an intervention of some kind. In the last three years I have made only 12 representations to the Associate Minister of Immigration, and even then 2 of these only asked him to review immigration and visa policies.

As you might imagine, it is difficult to say no to all these people, however I believe that making representations left, right and centre undermines our immigration system and sets unrealistic expectations.

My office handles immigration cases in various ways. A reoccurring complaint is the long wait that many applicants face, so in turn, my staff members will make enquiries with the Immigration Service on behalf of these people. I also explain immigration policies and encourage individuals to follow the due process. Each time an MP intervenes or helps someone to jump the queue it clogs up the system and can create even more problems.

New Zealand has always been critical of countries where it is just a matter of knowing the right people to get things done. These three Labour Ministers have lent their weight to proving that this attitude exists here too.

Simply citing a large ethnic population as the reason for a high number of appeals is not good enough. I believe that serious questions need to be raised as to why these three Labour Ministers have put forward so many requests to their colleague asking him to override the Immigration Service's decisions. Did these Ministers explore the reason as to why so many people asked for their help or take a closer look at immigration policy? The public needs to have confidence in our Cabinet Ministers, and that they will abide by the polices and regulations that others have to live with

Perhaps these Ministers made these requests to appease their constituents, while scratching each other's backs to trade favours at the Cabinet table - if that's so, is this the style of Government that New Zealand wants?

Watch this space

At the moment I am in China along with a delegation of overseas Chinese politicans from the USA, Canada and Australia. Upon my arrival I found myself being appointed as the head of the group - what a coup! It has been quite an experience.

A major paper here, The China Daily, has carried news about President Hu's visit to Britain, the impending visit to China by President Bush (this will be his third visit) and the six-party talks in Beijing yesterday. These headlines show how much China has become a major player on the world stage.

Watch this space in the next issue of What's Going wONg for observations and reflections from this interesting trip.


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