New immigration bill introduced in response to COVID-19 has Lane Neave on guard

National firm explains “cause for concern” over proposed law

New immigration bill introduced in response to COVID-19 has Lane Neave on guard

A new bill introduced by the Minister of Immigration on Tuesday as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic has Lane Neave on guard.

Following the drop of the pandemic alert level to 3 in late April, 1,000 Immigration New Zealand (INZ) employees are still unable to work from home. The bill seeks to drastically alter INZ’s way of managing temporary and resident visas, and will be passed into law on 15 May.

Lane Neave said in a media release on Wednesday that the bill “presents significant concern to migrants and their employers, in the opinion of immigration experts.”

While Lane Neave immigration partner Mark Williams acknowledged that the development of the bill does not come as a shock, he said that “the haste with which it has been drafted, the swift track through parliament and the broad discretionary powers bestowed on the minister should be a cause for concern.”

“What we have here is a radical bill with significant discretionary powers extended to the minister of immigration, and those powers appear fairy unrestricted in the current bill,” he said.

Williams points out that as of 27 April, there were roughly 350,000 temporary visa holders on New Zealand soil who could be impacted by these “unprecedented and far-reaching” powers.

Lane Neave said that “discretionary powers are discretionary,” even though some of the examples raised by INZ were said to be “necessary and positive” for the migrant situation. The firm also noted that some of the discretionary powers accorded to the minister do not seem related to the COVID-19 situation, such as the suspension of some expression of interest draws, despite assurances that the bill was proposed in good faith.

“There is little to prevent the minister utilising the powers outside the direct response to COVID-19, particularly in the absence of appeal rights for the exercise of these powers,” the firm said. 

Williams also believes that the bill is a response to the automatic extension of 80,000 temporary work visas under the Epidemic Management Notice, which is set to expire on 25 September.

“The bill appears to be in part an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Based on INZ’s current inability to function at a reasonable level, [the minister] has identified that a radical solution appears to be required in part to rescue the operational situation and prevent a disaster in late September rather than simply responding to the COVID-19 situation,” Williams said. 

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