Overstayers who have been in the country for more than 10 years will be offered an amnesty visa under a new immigration policy announced by Labour on Saturday.
The party’s immigration spokesperson Andrew Little said the one-off visa to people who had overstayed for more than a decade was about making good on Jacinda Ardern’s Dawn Raid apology two years ago.
Little also announced a new 10-year multiple visit “Super Visa” allowing parents and grandparents of migrants to make successive visits of between six months and five years.
“This is about ensuring migrants, who can often be isolated and without support structures, have the family around them when they need it,” Little said in a statement.
“Parents and grandparents will need to be financially supported by a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident child who is living here and have medical and public liability insurance.
”We’ll also focus on clearing the backlog of Parent Residence Visa applications.”Little promised to enact what he described as a “one-off regularisation programme for well-settled overstayers” within 100 days of re-election.
”These people are part of New Zealand. In some cases, they have been here for decades. They have family here, jobs and church.”
While the regularisation policy – effectively an amnesty for long-term overstayers – was about making good on the Dawn Raids apology, it would not be limited to Pacific people, he said.
Labour did not use the word amnesty once in their media release announcing the policy.
”It’s only fair that children born in this country aren’t held back from making the most of their own lives, because of their parents’ irregular visa status,” Little said.
”That is why regularisation will not be limited to any particular group, meaning people from all migrant communities will be able to apply.” Little estimated between 14,000 and 20,000 could be eligible for the amnesty including every survivor of the Dawn Raids who had not left the country.”
It means they will have rights at work and access to more government services like higher education,” he said.
National leader Christopher Luxon rejected any amnesty for overstayers when questioned by the Herald ahead of the announcement on Saturday.
”You can’t reward illegal immigration to New Zealand. We have to respect people who are being fair and proper and playing by the rules.
“And we don’t disrespect them by actually having an amnesty for those that aren’t choosing to do that.”
Minister for Diversity, Inclusion and Ethnic Communities Priyanca Radhakrishnan, announcing the new immigration policy, said “We need to become a society that truly values diversity.”
“So that all of us can feel safe, valued, respected, a sense of belonging and supported to participate in all aspects of life and society.”
In a press conference announcing the policy, Little said Labour believes in immigration that supports good jobs and high wages and has no tolerance for migrant exploitation.
“We managed to keep the borders safe during the global pandemic.”
“We filled critical skill gaps approving visas for more than 9000 healthcare workers” along with more construction workers, he said
“We’ve jumpstarted the tourism industry with more than 400,000 visitor visas approved since the borders opened.”
Labour also fulfilled its promise to double the refugee quota, he said.
Labour’s Super Visa is a 10-year multi-entry visa that will allow parents and grandparents to visit for successive stays of up to five years.”
Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said Labour stood for an immigration policy that built “strong multi-cultural communities,”.
“On those very rare occasions where individuals seek to exploit migrants there we will never back down from pursuing and holding those individuals to account and ensuring those who are taken advantage of are supported,” he said.
The Pacific Community had told Hipkins they had chosen to call New Zealand home because this is a land of opportunity.
Unfortunately, instead of finding a land of opportunity during the 1970s, they found intimidation, fear and the heavy hand of the state, he said, referencing the Dawn Raids.
The raids were deeply racist, he said. That’s why Labour apologised in 2021, he said.
When Labour came into policy the unemployment rate for Pacific people had dropped from about 10 per cent to 6.2 per cent, Hipkins said.
Recently, some had suggested the meaning of the 2021 apology had been called into question, Hipkins said, alluding to the fact it was revealed dawn raids were still happening.
That was why Labour had announced a regularisation policy for any overstayer who had been here for 10 years or more, he said.
That will include every victim of the Dawn Raids in the 1970s who did not leave NZ, he said.
Many of the people who would be able to apply were friends colleagues and active community members.
“We want them to feel like they can come out of the shadows.”
The changes to Dawn Raids came after Mike Heron KC’s independent review recommended the Government consider either halting out-of-hours compliance visits altogether or making them subject to judicial warrants.
Previously Little had told the Herald said such visits were rare, but this extra oversight would ensure they only happened in the most essential of situations and not where vulnerable people, such as families and or elderly people, were present.
Little said he felt it addressed concerns raised by New Zealand communities about the practice.
“The Government is committed to continuing to right the wrongs of the past, and honouring the historic Dawn Raids apology to Pacific people with action,” Little said.
“Requiring a judicial warrant will ensure powers are not used disproportionately and there is a legal, third-party check and balance. It will mean this aspect of immigration compliance activity aligns with the intent of the 2021 Dawn Raids apology.”
It required the Immigration Act to be amended, which will not happen until Parliament resumed after the election. Little said the Government was required to respond to the review, which is why it had been announced as a Government decision rather than Labour policy.
A Construction and Infrastructure Sector Agreement had also been decided, where employers would be able to recruit migrants for roles at a lower wage threshold – currently $26.69 an hour – than under the Accredited Employer Work Visa, which has a current wage threshold of $29.66.
“Cabinet has agreed to add seven roles to the agreement next year to continue the Government’s delivery of new houses and infrastructure,” Little said.
Cabinet had also agreed to allow Cyclone Recovery Visa holders to apply for a three-month extension in which they could transition to longer-term work visas.