The Government isn’t keeping track of how many foreign citizens it is letting into New Zealand under the ‘essential other worker’ border closure exemption, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith has revealed.
“New Zealand needs strong, secure and competent border procedures to keep us all safe from another Covid-19 outbreak, and to allow us to progressively re-open our tourism and export education industries when it is safe.
“But information revealed to me by the Immigration Minister is that his department isn’t even keeping track of how many people it has allowed to enter New Zealand under the ‘essential other worker’ border closure exemption.
“When I requested the information, clumsy and incompetent Immigration Minister Ian Lees-Galloway said it would take too much effort to find out the exact number, and it was not in the public interest for him to do so.
“It is profoundly incompetent to think that with our current border closures, Mr Lees-Galloway and the Government don’t know the exact amount of people who are entering New Zealand under any type of visa.
“If the Government doesn’t know how many people it is letting in, how is it keeping track of them to make sure they are not sick?"
The Immigration Minister needs to get his ministry working faster to process border exceptions for essential workers, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“I have been contacted by numerous businesses that haven’t received a response to their Other Essential Workers border exception requests days after they have been made.
“This simply isn’t good enough when businesses need workers here urgently to get on with the job of rebuilding our economy. They need certainty so they can plan for the future.
“Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has overseen a department that has experienced blowouts in processing times for visas over the 18 months prior to lockdown.
“Economic development clearly isn’t the Government’s strong suit. You only have to look at how long Phil Twyford took to grant border exceptions for America’s Cup teams, which will provide an obvious and major economic boost to New Zealand.
“I’m concerned that the Government, which doesn’t understand businesses, isn’t acting with the urgency required to make sure these requests are processed quickly.
“Businesses that need to bring in workers for significant economic activities should be able to do so quickly. Failure to make this happen will have major ramifications for our economy.”
Behrouz Boochani’s continued presence in New Zealand raises a number of questions the Prime Minister and Iain Lees-Galloway need to answer, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Behrouz Boochani is thought to be here illegally since his 30-day visa expired last weekend, but the Government doesn’t seem interested in doing anything about it.
“If he’s not following the proper process, he shouldn’t be in New Zealand. The United States has accepted his resettlement application, but for some reason he hasn’t gone.
“Thousands of law-abiding immigrants who want to come to New Zealand have had their visa applications delayed or declined because this Government has dropped the ball on immigration, processing times have increased and even people whose whole families are New Zealanders are missing out.
“Meanwhile we’ve got someone who’s got a place to go in the richest country in the world, is thought to have broken the law by overstaying his visa and not followed the proper process, but it appears that because he’s written a book and has connections to Government MPs, the Government is doing nothing.
“New Zealanders should be able to trust that their immigration system is fair and not reliant on celebrity connections. Cases like this call that into question and it’s concerning because it’s something we’re seeing more and more under this Government.
“Jacinda Ardern and Iain Lees-Galloway cannot wash their hands of this case and blame their officials. They have an obligation to New Zealanders to be upfront and honest about why he is still here and any involvement they’ve had in his case.
“The Government needs to front up and answer questions about Behrouz Boochani.”
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway’s incompetence and inability to sort out visa processing delays is ruining the reputation of New Zealand as an attractive place to work, in turn impacting our economy, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Iain Lees-Galloway knew visa processing times were about to blow out eight months ago. Instead of getting on top of the issue early on, the Minister dawdled and now, because of his inaction, visa delays are having a major impact on our economy.
“Businesses can’t get the workers they need and tertiary institutes are missing out on millions of dollars of revenue. Fruit is ripening on the tress and there isn’t enough people to pick it.
“Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is taking so long to process some visas that interim visas are expiring, turning some applicants into overstayers. For a Government focused on kindness and caring, it isn’t kind or caring to leave people in such uncertainty and potentially breaking our immigration law.
“How long is it going to take the Minister to stand up, show leadership, and sort out these issues?
“As word spreads that it takes too long to apply for visas to New Zealand, people will simply choose to take their skills elsewhere, making it even more difficult for Kiwi businesses to fill the gaps.
“The Minister needs to sort this mess out so businesses can hire the right talent for them and don’t have to sit in limbo waiting for months.”
A new Members’ Bill pulled from the ballot today would introduce a legal timeline for insurance companies to assess and present a settlement offer to claimants, MP for Kaikoura Stuart Smith says.
“I have heard from too many people affected by the Kaikoura and Christchurch earthquakes that dealing with insurance was more stressful than the earthquake itself. My Members’ Bill aims to make life a little easier for people who are dealing with the long term effects like losing their home.
“The Insurance (Prompt Settlement of Claims for Uninhabitable Residential Property) Bill will provide a timeline for when insurance companies must act by.
“My Bill will require an insurer to make a decision about a claim and notify claimants within six months of receiving the claim. This will speed up the process and give claimants greater clarity about when they can expect a resolution, which will help ease stress during difficult times.
“While people are required to have their insurance premiums up to date, there is currently no time requirement for insurers to assess claims and make an offer. There must be clearer understanding of obligations both for the insured and the insurer as to the time it will take for an offer to be made.
“In extreme circumstances the Minister will have discretion to grant an extension to the six month deadline.
“It’s important that after events like the Kaikoura and Christchurch earthquakes we work to identify lessons and make changes to improve our response for future events.
“Putting into law a deadline for insurance companies to make an offer to claimants will be a positive step forward.”
Immigration New Zealand encouraging immigrants to become illegal overstayers while they grapple with processing visas shows how out of control the department has become and Minister Iain Lees-Galloway is asleep at the wheel, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Iain Lees-Galloway is overseeing a department encouraging people to breach immigration law, of which they are there to protect, all because they can’t get visas processed on time. This is a very stressful and uncertain time for immigrants.
“But, unsurprisingly, Iain Lees-Galloways seems to be completely unaware of the potential ramifications if immigrants became overstayers.
“When questioned on the matter, the Minister had no idea that once an immigrant resides in New Zealand unlawfully, their unlawful status becomes a factor in all future visa applications in New Zealand or overseas, regardless of whether Immigration New Zealand (INZ) encouraged them to reside unlawfully in New Zealand.
“New Zealand is just one of a number of countries, like Australia, Canada and the United States, where visa applicants are required to declare if they have previously been in another country unlawfully. If you have an unlawful status it can be very difficult to travel overseas, and in some cases prevented altogether.
“The Minister doesn’t seem to understand the severity of the situation.
“The Minister needs to take all steps to ensure those who were encouraged to stay here unlawfully will not have their immigration status impacted if applying for visas in any other country.
“Iain Lees-Galloway needs to step up and act like a Minister. He needs to start demonstrating that he takes his role seriously and pay attention to detail. So far he hasn’t performed and New Zealanders deserve better.”
The Government is all over the place on immigration and its policy is incoherent, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“The Government just can’t make up its mind. It campaigned on being tougher on immigration. Since then, it’s chopped and changed between toughening up and liberalising.
“The reality is that partnership visas for arranged marriages have been a normal part of immigration policy for a long time and it was politically naïve to get rid of them.
“There’s no doubt that NZ First was driving this and the Government’s decision to reverse the policy highlights deep divisions around the Cabinet table.
“You just can’t trust this Government on immigration.”
Visa processing times are continuing to increase despite millions being pumped into Immigration New Zealand, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Visa delays are having a major impact on our economy. Businesses can’t get the workers they need and tertiary institutes are missing out on millions of dollars of international student revenue. Fruit will ripen on the trees and there will be no one to pick it.
“Figures from Immigration New Zealand (INZ) show 13 out of 14 of the main visa categories are being processed slower now than under the previous National Government. In the past year alone, the average processing times for residence visas, student visas and work visas have all slowed by at least 50 days.
“Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has confirmed through Written Parliamentary Questions that the visitor visa processing times have slowed down by a hundred days on average.
“The slowdown is despite INZ hiring an additional 177 staff, costing $11.7 million, to deal with visa processing pressures.
“The Minister should be showing leadership and sorting out these issues immediately, instead he has allowed INZ to change the data they provide to make it look like they are processing visas faster.
“Instead of playing around with how the data is presented, the Minister should be directing his officials to get on with the job and focus on actually processing visas.
“National understands the benefits of sound immigration policy from an economic, social and cultural perspective. We want to see visas processed in a timely manner so businesses can hire the right talent for them and don’t have to sit in limbo waiting for months.”
Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway must make good on his promise and announce the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme cap earlier than November as seasonal employers are crying out for help, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Mr Lees-Galloway assured businesses in April that he was looking to make a decision on the cap earlier this year but does not appear to honouring his assurances. When asked in Parliament yesterday when he would announce the cap, the best he could offer was ‘soon’. ‘Soon’ will not cut it for businesses who need certainty to plan for the upcoming picking seasons.
“Meanwhile, a dozen regional businesses have penned an open letter to the Minister, calling on him to announce the cap, signed ‘Yours in eternal hope and desperation’.
“Announcing the cap earlier and providing a two year allocation would allow businesses more time to plan and access workers sooner, so that sectors with earlier harvesting periods, such as strawberries and asparagus, can have greater certainty around their business operations. It would also allow businesses in the wine industry, who are the last cab off the rank for workers, more time to ensure they will have enough workers for winter pruning season.
“The Minister should also increase the cap by a minimum of 1,500 workers to ensure that businesses demands for more workers are met.
“Currently, regions such as Central Otago, Marlborough and Nelson don’t have access to enough workers locally to meet the demands of employers in those areas. Despite these workers shortages, these regions receive less of an allocation under the RSE scheme than regions with more accessibility to local labour. Workers should be allocated based on the needs of businesses and the availability of local labour, not on a regional basis.
“The process of allocating workers also needs to be more fair and transparent. Businesses have a right to know the exact criteria for how workers are allocated, and where they are allocated to. They should not have to deal with this unnecessary bureaucracy.”
Iain Lees-Galloway has admitted he is ‘concerned’ about visa application waiting times, but that won’t help businesses crying out for employees, National’s Immigration spokesperson Stuart Smith says.
“Essential skills visa processing times have almost doubled, to 76 days, since the Government took office. This is unacceptable at a time when businesses are desperate for workers, with reports of some closing early when they can’t cope.
“Visa delays hit the regions particularly hard. Businesses outside of main centres rely on tourists to staff their operations, and processing delays make this near impossible.
“It isn’t just the essential skills visa category that is under pressure – 13 out of 14 visa categories have seen their waiting times increase under this Government. More applications were made under the New Zealand Residency Programme than the current planning range allows for.
“The education sector has an estimated loss of $70 million due to delays in student visas, while visitor visa delays are causing tourism companies to cancel tours.
“Migrants are paying for a service to get their visas processed and Immigration New Zealand is not providing the level of service that New Zealanders would expect.
“The Minister hasn’t provided any clear answers on how things are going to be improved, apart from saying they are hiring some more staff.
“National knows migrants bring skills, capital and connections. They make our country an even better place, providing opportunities and creating jobs for all New Zealanders, as well as helping our economy grow.
“I am calling on the Minister to give clarity for businesses, educators, families and most importantly, immigrants on how he plans to rectify this increase in delays.”