Firm But Fair Immigration Package AnnouncedImmigration
Immigration Minister Max Bradford today announced a $23 million funding injection and legislative package designed to combat immigration scams.
"The Coalition Government is committed to encouraging genuine visitors and new migrants who contribute economically and socially to our country. It is also committed to treating people fairly and quickly, but we will not tolerate abuses of our immigration system," Mr Bradford said.
"The measures announced today reinforce the firm but fair policy New Zealand needs in order to cope with the growing international trend of illegal migrant trafficking.
"In short, they mean that if you can stay, you'll know quickly. If you have to go, you'll go quickly."
Mr Bradford said the $23 million funding injection over three years to the New Zealand Immigration Service builds on measures announced last week to speed up the processing of asylum seeker applications, and will also speed up removal of people illegally in New Zealand.
The $23 million is made up of:
$3 million to reduce the backlog of asylum seeker claims and process new claims;
$10 million to speed up appeals related to asylum claims and against removal;
$10 million to cover the legal costs associated with judicial reviews in asylum seeker cases and for the removal of those who do not gain refugee status.
"Speeding up the process for asylum seekers to about six to nine months rather than years gives more certainty to genuine claimants," he said.
"It also sends a clear message that we will not tolerate anyone attempting to use our system as a back door route to staying in New Zealand on a benefit for years, or to get a work permit.
"New Zealand's long-term commitment to refugees continues for people genuinely in need of protection but not to those out to rip us off.
"Over the past three years there has been a 300 per cent increase in the number of people seeking asylum in New Zealand. More than 70 per cent of cases are assessed as not genuine," Mr Bradford said.
"The effect of this huge increase in people claiming asylum has been to clog the processing system and increase welfare payments at a cost to the taxpayer," he said.
"By injecting money now to clear the backlog of applications and to provide a faster system for processing new applications and appeals, the Government expects to save money in the longer term, and also provide a fairer system for genuine asylum seekers.
"These measures are consistent with the Coalition Agreement, and the outcome of the successful Coalition Government Population Conference held last year."
BACKGROUND FOR MEDIA
SUMMARY OF IMMIGRATION PACKAGE
Speeding up Refugee Status Applications
The number of people applying for refugee status in New Zealand has increased rapidly in recent years. This has led to a backlog of about 2,600 cases (the actual number of people is higher because cases often include the applicant's immediate family) with the New Zealand Immigration Service's Refugee Status Branch, and a wait of up to three years for new cases to be determined by the branch.
The $23 million funding injection includes $3 million over three years to speed up the Refugee Status Branch processing of both new claims and the current backlog. The $23 million also includes $10 million over three years to speed up Refugee Status Appeals Authority processing and appeals to the Removal Review Authority.
The $10 million over three years for the legal costs associated with asylum case judicial reviews and for the removal of those who are not granted refugee status, will also free up resources for the faster removal of other illegal immigrants.
Refugee Status Legislation
Since 1990 New Zealand has met its obligations under the Refugee Convention by way of a Cabinet mandated process - Terms of Reference (rules and procedures for determining claims and appeals). The Court of Appeal, in the Danny Butler case, has suggested the determination procedures should be given a legislative foundation.
The Coalition Government will introduce legislation this year which will incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees, of which New Zealand is a signatory, and refugee procedures into the Immigration Act.
The system for determining refugee status is a two tier one. Asylum seekers first make their case to the New Zealand Immigration Service's Refugee Status Branch. If declined refugee status, they may appeal to an independent body, the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, which operates as a judicial body although not having any statutory recognition.
It is expected legislation will establish the role, function, powers and jurisdiction of the New Zealand Immigration Service (Refugee Status Branch officers) and the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, with the detail of determination procedures to be set by regulation.
Currently, legal aid is not available to people making an application to the Immigration Service's Refugee Status Branch, but is available for appeals to the Refugee Status Appeals Authority. The Coalition Government has agreed in principal to legal aid being available to asylum seekers when they first apply to the Refugee Status Branch. A final decision is expected later this year.
Currently, Judicial Reviews of immigration decisions may be made at any time after the decision - including up to years after a decision - and have been used a delaying tactic to prevent removal from New Zealand. The Coalition Government will introduce legislation this year limiting the length of time available for people to seek a High Court Judicial Review of any immigration decision to 28 days from the date of the decision.
The $23 million funding injection includes funding for an 18 month "interdiction" programme. Interdiction is a process whereby experienced New Zealand immigration border officers are based at, or regularly visit, overseas airports known to be high risk departure points for people trying to enter New Zealand illegally. Part of the work involves training airline staff in detecting improperly documented
passengers, for example, people travelling on false passports. The programme will be evaluated at the end of the 18 months.
The Coalition Government will introduce legislation this year designed to speed up the process of removing people illegally in New Zealand.
Currently, people illegally in New Zealand must be located twice,- once to served with a removal order, and later to be removed. A person served with a removal order has 42 days to either leave New Zealand voluntarily or appeal against their removal to the independent Removal Review Authority. At the end of the 42 days, if the person has not appealed to the Authority, the person may be removed (escorted to the next available flight to their home country).
The proposed new system is to clearly inform people entering New Zealand that they have a statutory obligation to depart at the expiry of their permit. If they choose not to leave, they will have 28 days to appeal against removal to the Removal Review Authority. If they do not appeal, or leave voluntarily within the 28 days, they will be removed.