Temporary pragmatic solutions to immigration challenges under COVID-19

  • Hon Iain Lees-Galloway

A Bill to temporarily amend immigration legislation to support the quick and efficient management of visa changes during COVID-19 is being introduced to Parliament tomorrow.

“The Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill presents a pragmatic solution to practical challenges arising from the COVID-19 Pandemic for migrants in New Zealand and the New Zealand Government”, said Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway.

“One of the practical challenges is to quickly manage visa changes for large numbers of migrants who are unable to leave New Zealand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Bill will enable the government to amend visa conditions for groups of people, extend visas for groups of people for varying periods of time (enabling processing to be staggered), stop people overseas from making visa applications while it is not possible to travel to New Zealand due to border restrictions, and provide the ability to refuse entry to people who are deemed to hold a visa.

The changes introduced through the Bill will ensure that our immigration system is flexible and responsive to this emergency situation.

“The current Act’s small number of emergency provisions were introduced at a time when New Zealand had much lower numbers of temporary migrants. We are finding now that the existing settings are not enough to respond appropriately where, for example, large numbers of visas need to be changed or extended at once,” says Iain Lees-Galloway.

The current legislation is predicated on individual applications managed on an individual basis. The Immigration Act has very limited ability to deal with applicants as a class or group of individuals.

The Bill introduces eight time-limited powers:

  • to impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders
  • vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders
  • extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people
  • grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application
  • waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application
  • waive the requirement to obtain a transit visa
  • suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit Expressions of Interest in applying for visas by classes of people
  • revoke the entry permission of people who arrive either on private aircraft or marine vessels (to align them with people who arrive on commercial flights, who can already be refused entry).

The Bill recognises that these are wide-ranging powers potentially affecting many people. A range of safeguards will be applied, including that these powers expire twelve months after enactment.