The current Immigration Act 2009 only has three provisions relating to emergencies. This is inadequate to deal with the current Covid-19 emergency. A new piece of legislation is being rushed through parliament to respond to visa issues that have arisen due to Covid-19.
There are currently 350,000 temporary visa holders in New Zealand.
This legislation gives temporary powers to the Minister of Immigration. The powers will automatically be revoked in 12 months’ time. The purpose is to be able to provide immediate relief, particularly with many Immigration New Zealand employees unable to work from home at present.
There are eight discretionary powers given to the Minister under the Bill :
- Impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary-entry 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)
Here are a few examples of common situations for visa holders and how the legislation will treat them.
John is on a temporary work visa with a condition to work at the Invercargill Branch of Business ABC. Covid-19 has forced the shutdown of the Invercargill Branch and it won’t re-open, however, the Queenstown branch will re-open. John is allowed to be re-deployed to the Queenstown branch despite his visa condition saying he must work in Invercargill.
Jane is on a permanent resident visa but before New Zealand went into Alert Level 4, she was on holiday overseas and now can’t get home. Her visa is due to expire. Jane’s visa has been extended six months to allow her to re-enter New Zealand.
James is on a student visa. He has no income. James’ application fees for a new visa have been waived since he cannot meet the fees.
The Bill comes into force on 15 May 2020.