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Parent Category visa ‘grossly unfair’ for long term migrants

Opinion Piece

Anyone who has settled in New Zealand will be affected by the Parent visa – whether they arrived two years ago or 20 years ago. Immigration Law expert Aaron Martin points out that even New Zealand citizens who migrated here half a lifetime ago are no longer able to bring their elderly parent to New Zealand – unless they’re earning a whopping $106,000 a year.

The Parent Category visa programme is open again – but with steep new rules.

The Parent Category visa allows parents to join their children in New Zealand if they are a resident or citizen. An enormous backlog led to the visa being closed in 2016.

It’s now been re-opened – but the rules may mean it’s still out-of-bounds for most would-be applicants.

As of February 2020, the child of parent applicants will be the sole ‘sponsor’ – and they must earn almost twice the New Zealand median income. Previously, the Parent Category visa simply required parent applicants to have a guaranteed lifetime income.

And it’s not just recent migrants who will be affected but anyone who has settled in New Zealand – whether they arrived two years ago or 20 years ago.

Immigration Law expert Aaron Martin says the changes are ‘grossly unfair’.

“A lot of people think it’s all about the migrants who came yesterday, but it’s not,” he says.

Consider, for example, the plight of a New Zealand citizen who migrated from the UK over 20 years ago and has an elderly mother back home in the UK. Previously, the plan might have been to bring Mum to New Zealand so she could be looked after by her family.

The visa changes have effectively ruled this out – unless the migrant son or daughter is earning at least $106,000 a year. They are now faced with the dilemma of moving back home to look after her.

It’s bizarre, says Aaron, that a substantial income of $90,000 a year – or even $140,000 a year – is deemed to be “not enough” to support an elderly parent in New Zealand.

“It’s going to cause a lot of hardship for a lot of people who were qualified under old system and are now being told, ‘your parents aren’t coming anymore,’” he says.

Under the new rules, a single person sponsoring one parent will have to show they are earning about $106,000 a year. If they want to sponsor both parents, their income must be $159,000 a year. Joint sponsors for one parent also must be earning $159,000 a year (up from $90,000) and a whopping $212,000 a year for two parents.

Parent applicants will also still have to meet certain health and character requirements. The visa has also been capped at 1000 people per year.

Aaron says the new income threshold is almost certainly unobtainable for most of the migrant population.

“It’s an income of people who are software developers, lawyers, accountants – people who have gone to university,” he says. “It reeks of elitism.”

The ability for migrants to start a family may also be in jeopardy. Under the old rules, a couple’s combined income of $90,000 allowed them to bring over one or both parents. Now, if a spouse has to leave work to start a family, their partner will have to earn at least $159,000 in order to bring their parents here.

This is compounded by the fact that many migrants belong to an extended family network in which it may be traditional for one or both parents to live with a son or daughter. The bonus of this arrangement is not only that the grandparents are provided for, but they will often take on the role as caregiver for a couple’s young children. This will often allow the couple to continue working to provide for their family.

However, the changes appear to have been made with the assumption that the migrant’s parent will be sitting at home doing nothing – or worse, becoming a ‘burden on the state’.

This is rarely the case, says Aaron. Fewer people are retiring at 65, and many older people are continuing to work at least part time. He adds that there is no empirical data to suggest that migrant parents are indeed drawing on State resources to the level that people and politicians assume.

Instead, the loss of that parent as a live-in caregiver will likely put more pressure on young migrant families rather than assisting with their settlement in New Zealand.

He has scoffed at the Immigration Minster’s claim that the rule change would ensure “businesses could get the skilled workers they need by providing a pathway for their parents to join them”.

Very few skilled workers going to be earning at that level, Aaron says.

Ultimately, the changes could see many settled migrants rethinking whether they can stay on here.

“A lot of highly skilled people will be saying, ‘Okay, I’ve got my residency (or citizenship), but I’m going to have to leave because someone’s got to look after Mum,’” he says.


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