Immigration law changes fast tracked

The Minister of Immigration introduced a Bill into Parliament this week which if passed will become law late next week. These law changes are designed to fix major visa problems created by the COVID 19 crisis.

There are approximately 350,000 people currently in New Zealand on some form of temporary visa (visitor, student or work). Many cannot leave New Zealand due to a lack of flights or border closures in their home country. Around 80,000 have had visas automatically extended to 25 September 2020. Thousands will have visas due to expire before the end of this year.

This law change is designed as a practical solution to manage visas renewals for large numbers of people at one time without requiring everyone to line up and apply for a new visa. The system simply could not cope if hundreds of thousands were to apply at once because right now each visa application is individually assessed and decided by an Immigration Officer.

The highlights from these proposed law changes will give the Minister of Immigration the power to:

  • Extend, amend, issue or cancel the conditions of any temporary visa whether the person is in New Zealand or overseas.

  • Extend, amend or cancel the conditions of resident visas whether the person is in New Zealand or overseas.

  • Suspend the ability for anyone to apply for certain types of temporary visas or lodge Expressions of Interest.

What will these law changes mean in practice?

The government have not released their immigration policies (immigration instructions) around the proposed law changes. It is the polices that will actually determine how individuals are affected by these law changes.

Examples of how these new laws may be used are:

  • The government relaxing employment conditions for work visa holders already in New Zealand so they can move to another employer or new location.

  • Extend temporary visas for a select group or all 80,000 people holding visas expiring on 25 September 2020 without the need to lodge individual visa applications.

  • Extend a visa (temporary or resident) for anyone currently offshore who cannot travel to New Zealand before the visa expires due to border closure.

  • Stop people (tourists) overseas applying for visitor visas while border restrictions are in place.

  • Stop people lodging Expressions of Interest under the Skilled Migrant and/or Parent and/or Investor 2 categories for up to 3 months.

These law changes will give the government the power to cancel temporary visas held by anyone who is overseas. For example, someone holding a work visa but who has now lost their job in New Zealand may have that visa cancelled; or due to a rapidly changing job market (rising unemployment) the government may decide to cancel large groups of work visa holders to prevent them travelling to New Zealand.

Until the government releases their policies there are a lot of questions left unanswered. We expect the policies will be released reasonably quickly following the law change. No one should lose sight of the fact that this is an election year so anything is possible, and the governments focus will be “jobs for kiwis first”.

These changes expire 12 months after the law is passed.

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