Immigration Amendment Bill (No 2) First Reading

  • Michael Woodhouse

Mr Speaker, I move that the Immigration Amendment Bill (No 2) be now read a first time. 

I nominate the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee to consider the Bill.

New Zealand is a nation built on immigration.  The integrity of our immigration system is vital for the wellbeing of New Zealand.  And this Bill further ensures that our immigration system protects our borders, is current in its responsiveness to the use of electronic systems, protects migrant workers from exploitation, and enables immigration officers to have the powers they need to enforce the Act.

Mr Speaker, this Bill does a number of things.  It will ensure the immigration system operates more effectively by:

  • strengthening  the compliance regime
  • responding to opportunities provided by new technology
  • introducing measures to address the exploitation of migrant workers
  • clarifying provisions in the principal Act, and
  • addressing minor drafting issues.

I will talk through some of these key changes now. 

The Bill extends the powers of immigration officers so they have the powers they need to effectively enforce the Immigration Act.  The Bill will enable immigration officers to:

  1. Undertake a personal search at the border.  This will enable immigration officers to confirm the identity of passengers in those cases where passengers have concealed their identity documents.
  2. Search a property or place for identity documents in order to facilitate a deportation or turnaround. 
  3. Enter and search an employer’s premises in order to search for unlawful workers, check documents and to interview employees to ascertain whether the employees and the employer are complying with the Act.  This amendment will ensure immigration officers are more effective in checking an employer’s compliance with the Act - including where there is information that workers may be being exploited, and also determining whether workers are complying with the work-related conditions of their visa.
  4. Apply for and execute a search warrant.  Currently, immigration officers apply to the court for a warrant and a police officer executes the warrant on their behalf.  This amendment will result in more timely compliance operations and contribute to the effective functioning of the immigration system.

These new powers for immigration officers will be brought into force by Order in Council.  This will only happen once appropriate systems for training staff in their use are in place. 

Further measures to address the exploitation of migrant workers

The Bill includes two amendments that will protect migrant workers from exploitation.  These legislative amendments are part of a package of actions this Government is taking to address the exploitation of migrants. 

They demonstrate that this Government is taking the issue seriously and will come down hard on employers who take advantage of vulnerable migrant workers.  We see this as vitally important, particularly in the context of re-building Canterbury. 

Immigration plays a key role in boosting the supply of the significant number of workers required to rebuild Canterbury - and these migrant workers need to be protected from the small number of exploitative employers who seek to gain a commercial advantage by employing migrants on terms below minimum employment standards.

The first measure is to make exploitation of migrants on temporary entry class visas with work conditions an offence.  There is presently an inconsistency in the legislation, in that employers who exploit unlawful migrant workers can face hefty sanctions, whereas those who exploit lawful migrant workers face much less serious penalties. 

This Bill will address that mismatch by adding the exploitation of lawful workers as an offence under the Act.  Employers who exploit migrant workers on temporary visas could face up to seven years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $100,000.

The second amendment will see employers who are themselves recent migrants and who have held a residence class visa for less than 10 years liable for deportation if they exploit migrant workers.  This will act as a further deterrent and was a provision in the 1987 Act but not carried over when the Act was updated in 2009.

Mr Speaker, while changes to the law are important elements to improving protection for migrant workers, the most important factor in achieving this is for exploited workers to speak up, and I encourage those workers to do so in order that a brighter light can be shone on the practices of exploitive workers.

The Bill changes the way biometric information is collected to address gaps in identity management capability, to enable faster identification and to improve the Government’s ability to manage risk.  These amendments will:

  1. Enable biometric information to be collected from persons already known to be liable for deportation or turnaround.  The biometric information can then be used to compare against future applicants for entry to New Zealand and to help confirm their identity. This amendment will enhance identity management capability, leading to improved public safety and a reduction in the number of ineligible people entering or re-entering New Zealand.
  2. Enable a compulsion order to be sought, to require a person to allow their biometric information to be taken where that person is liable for deportation.
  3. Where a compulsion order is made, enable Police to use reasonable force to take the biometric information.  This will help ensure a firm, fast and fair deportation process for people who do not have the right to remain in New Zealand.
  4. Enable biometric information to be collected from non-citizens arriving in New Zealand, either before or after they have been granted entry permission, while they are still within the Immigration Control Area. 

The Bill will help ensure the Immigration Act has the ability to support the increased use of technology when the new immigration service delivery model is in place.  Amendments will expressly allow the Ministry to serve notices electronically and allow the use of electronic communications in Immigration and Protection Tribunal proceedings.  These amendments will help to provide a more efficient, modern and cost-effective service to our customers and other stakeholders.

The Bill makes changes to the way information on the passenger name records is provided, in order to improve the identification of travellers who may pose a risk or require further intervention, and to improve airline compliance with immigration law.  The changes specify that the passenger name information can be accessed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment at specified times, without it having to make a formal request each time and that the information can be accessed for longer than the current 14 day period before and after the arrival of a craft.  The information will be able to be used to identify patterns and trends which will help recognise and detect risks - leading to better protected borders and a safer New Zealand.

The Bill makes changes to the way in which immigration is funded so that the funding of the immigration system is sustainable into the future.  It will enable the broadening of the scope and funding base of the Migrant Levy - renamed as the Immigration Levy. 

The Bill clarifies that the ability to request personal information under the Privacy Act 1993 does not apply to reasons for decisions made using absolute discretion.  This parallels the existing exclusion under the Official Information Act. It also includes a number of other miscellaneous provisions mostly of a minor or technical nature.  These amendments generally reflect provisions inadvertently not carried over from the 1987 Immigration Act, clarify provisions in the 2009 Act, or address minor drafting issues.

I’m confident that when this bill is passed it will build on the strong immigration legislative framework already in place and I commend it to the House.