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Cause For Concern As New Bill Gives Unbridled Power To Minister Of Immigration

The Minister of Immigration introduced a Bill into Parliament yesterday that proposes to radically change the Immigration New Zealand approach to management of both resident and temporary visas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The potential consequences of this new Bill give unprecedented and far reaching powers to the Minister and will become law on Friday 15 May. This presents significant concern to migrants and their employers, in the opinion of immigration experts.

Lane Neave Immigration partner, Mark Williams says the need for this Bill is in part no surprise, given that 1,000 employees of Immigration New Zealand are still not able to work at home under Alert Level 3. But the haste with which it has been drafted, the swift track through Parliament and the broad discretionary powers bestowed on the Minister should be a cause for concern.

“What we have here is a radical Bill with significant discretionary powers extended to the Minister of Immigration, and those powers appear fairy unrestricted in the current Bill. This is very concerning given that as at 27 April 2020 there are approximately 350,000 temporary visa holders onshore who may be subject to the exercise of discretionary decision making on their visas,” said Williams.

Adding to the concern are the 80,000 temporary work visa holders whose visas were automatically extended under the Epidemic Management Notice, which will expire on 25 September 2020.

“The Bill appears to be in part an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Based on INZ’s current inability to function at a reasonable level he has identified that a radical solution appears to be required in part to rescue the operational situation and prevent a disaster in late September rather than simply responding to the COVID-19 situation,” adds Williams.

While it has been expressed that the Bill has been introduced in good faith and some of the examples raised for use by Immigration New Zealand are necessary and positive for migrants, discretionary powers are discretionary. There is little to prevent the Minister utilising the powers outside the direct response to COVID-19, particularly in the absence of appeal rights for the exercise of these powers.

It appears some of the powers, for example suspending some Expression of Interest draws, have nothing to do with the COVID-19 environment. Mr Williams advises that “They appear to be required because Immigration New Zealand is not able to function at present to deal with some of those applications that are not even relevant to COVID-19 or an altered labour market. What is required here is to simply get more Immigration New Zealand employees back to work.”

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