Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill introduced to New Zealand Parliament
On Tuesday, 5 May 2020, the New Zealand Parliament introduced the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill.
The bill will grant the New Zealand Government far-reaching powers to change how visas are accepted and processed. The bill also introduces powers to allow the Minister of Immigration to suspend the ability of some classes of people to apply for visas.
We asked Maike Versfeld, Intergate Emigration Director and licensed advisor, to explain the bill’s significance to us, including how it may affect immigrants going forward. Here’s what she had to say:
Why was this bill introduced?
It was found that the current Immigration Act of 2009 was not fit-for-purpose to respond to emergency situations like the challenges that were experienced due to the Covid-19 outbreak. The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill is set to become law on the 15th of May 2020.
The date range from labelling this bill in parliament to it getting enacted is only 10 days, which gives very little time for stakeholders to voice their opinions on it. If this is not concerning to you, then you should think again.
But what does this mean and who is going to be affected by this?
This Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill will allow the government to make visa-related decisions to entire groups of visa application holders and applicants. It will give the government the power to:
- vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders
- impose, vary, or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders
- waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of applications
- grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application
- extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people
- waive the requirement to obtain a transit visa in an individual case
- revoke the entry permission of a person who has been deemed by regulations to hold a visa and to have been granted entry permission
- suspend the ability of classes of people to make applications for visas or submit expressions of interest in applying for visas
Provided the bill passes in parliament, it will give the Minister of Immigration new powers for the next 12 months. Those powers can either be used to make changes that you’ll welcome or mean that Immigration NZ will be able to take away certain rights.
Interestingly, the bill gives the Minister of Immigration the ability to grant visas without a visa application being present. He’ll be able to impose, vary or cancel conditions for entire classes of temporary visa holders.
Where does this leave us?
It is still very unclear at the moment. It is also worrisome that the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill will allow the Minister to ‘suspend certain classes of people to make applications for visas or submit an expression of interest in applying for visas’….
I am asking myself what type of visa applicant will this affect, and why would it even be necessary to give the New Zealand government such powers?
Before the pandemic started, INZ’s processing time for a Skilled Migrant Residence visa was about 18 months. If I compare this to 2017, a time when an SMC application was still assessed within 1-3 months, it is clearly evident that INZ was already struggling with all the applications in the queue before the pandemic started. Temporary work visa applications took between 2-4 months, sometimes longer.
Seeing that the visa processing time was already long prior to the pandemic, what is the real reason behind wanting to suspend the ability of people to submit visa applications and Expression of Interests? Is this perhaps just a tool to allow INZ to clear the backlog they were sitting on for a very long time? Or is this a way to create new classes of people who INZ want to prevent from applying for visas in future?
There aren’t answers yet to all our questions, but it’s more important than ever to know if you’re eligible for immigration and to understand the visa application process.
Please do not hesitate to contact our team if you have any questions. You can call us on 021 202 8200 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.