Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi via Getty
Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi via Getty

Immigration policy meltdown: Minister Faafoi’s ‘three strikes’ in three weeks

Opinion 01/12/2021

OPINION: As we near the silly season, it’s not been a great three weeks for the Minister of Immigration. 

Strike 1: The spectacular ‘own goal’ that was the Productivity Commission tearing up Minister Faafoi’s entire immigration policy platform

The Minister’s justification for stalling the residency programme, stranding family members offshore, hammering those on student visas, was that migrants keep wages down and steal jobs from Kiwis. 

ACT has maintained that this is nonsense and ignores the wide-ranging economic opportunities created by migrants.

Now, the Productivity Commission has stated that “immigration has had small and mostly positive effects on wages and employment of New Zealand-born workers over the last 25 years”. 

They further explained that “immigration policy does not undergo the same level of transparency, public scrutiny or robust policy assessment requirements as other public policies”. Funny that.

ACT has also challenged the Minister’s long-delayed Accredited Employer Work Visa scheme which is supposedly going to reduce migrant exploitation. 

Despite this claim, the Productivity Commission is calling for the removal of “visa conditions that tie temporary migrants to a specific employer”. Only problem is, the new scheme doubles down on that.

In short, the Government’s ‘immigration reset’ – which has apparently been renamed to ‘rebalance’ (although someone forgot to tell Chris Hipkins) – is based on flawed assumptions and inane political ideology. 

Strike 2: The High Court denounces Immigration New Zealand (INZ) and the Minister responds by giving them the middle finger

On 22 November, the High Court ruled that INZ was wrong to stop processing visa applications from Afghan nationals who had assisted the New Zealand Defence Force, leaving their fate in the hands of the Taliban. 

Many have family here who are willing to settle them and even cover their costs. INZ nevertheless refused to grant exceptions on humanitarian grounds, using COVID-19 to shirk their responsibilities, as usual. The Court said that excuse was wrong and outside the law. 

So how did the Minister respond? He quietly issued new instructions that state that humanitarian issues must arise in New Zealand to be considered, and made it clear that being split from your family isn’t grounds for a humanitarian exception. Oof. 

Perhaps Minister Faafoi forgot that he’s also the Minister of Justice?

Strike 3: Visa processing for those offshore suspended until at least August 2022 

This one is a little odd, because once again we’ve seen new policy being added to INZ’s website without announcement, only for it to disappear and then reappear again. 

It states that INZ have “suspended visa processing for most individuals who are outside New Zealand… at least until 5 August 2022”. 

Presumably this clarifies the ‘staged by visa’ approach for when the border will reopen to fully vaccinated foreign nationals from 30 April 2022. 

It could be interpreted that between 30 April and 5 August, the border will only be open to foreign nationals who are from visa waiver countries. 

Sure, that’s better than nothing, but for many split migrants this is the news that they were dreading. Suddenly the 30 April date has become 5 August at the earliest.

With the Minister stating that split families do not qualify for humanitarian exemptions, he’s firmly demonstrated his own humanity. 

What about international students? When will they get their student visas processed? In theory this rules them out for the entirety of 2022, because by the time they can apply, they would have missed the second semester of University. 

Meanwhile, our mates in Australia are welcoming international students from this week. Our education sector, whose Minister is ironically Chris Hipkins – also the Minister for COVID-19 Response – will be fuming. 

I urge Chris Hipkins to fix this asap. 

Bonus Strikes: Skilled Migrant Category applications being randomly frozen under nonsense pretences and INZ’s website crashes 

Stories are coming in from migrants with Skilled Migrant Category applications, due to be processed, being contacted by INZ and told that they’re being put on hold. 

INZ’s reasoning is peculiar to say the least, typically around the nature of their employment. Their lawyers and advisers say that no such issues exist. It’s a remarkably dishonest way of shifting people from the Skilled Migrant Category to the 2021 Resident Visa. 

Meanwhile, the application form for the 2021 Resident Visa, which opened at 6am on 1 December, was predictably swamped and has been offline for most of the day…

This was just a quick overview of the last three weeks. Immigration policy has been a disaster under this Government, with many predictable stuff-ups being readied for 2022. 

Migrants and employers can be confident that ACT has taken the Government to task over their poor handling of border and immigration settings and will continue to do so.

ACT MP James McDowall

James has owned several small businesses and currently co-owns an immigration law firm. Prior to entering Parliament, he worked for a large NGO in the mental health sector. He has a young, multicultural family and is based in the Waikato.

ACT MP James McDowall