Lawyers call for more transparency on overstayers' visas

Source: 1News

Two immigration lawyers are calling for more transparency from Immigration New Zealand in how it deals with visa requests for overstayers.

Immigration lawyers Soane Foliaki and Richard Small have been helping families battle Immigration New Zealand over a law change which hampers those seeking visas getting information on why their requests were turned down.

It comes as Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi told 1News the Government is not currently looking at residency for overstayers, but is considering “re-balancing New Zealand’s immigration settings”.

This could include in the future a pathway to residency for overstayers.

In New Zealand overstayers can apply for a visa under section 61 of the Immigration Act.

However, a law change in 2015 meant that they have been declined and won’t be able to find out why or whether immigration New Zealand has got it wrong, which has happened numerous times in the past.

“There is no transparency and no way of checking the accuracy of that information,” immigration lawyer Richard Small told 1News.

In the last 10 to 15 years, Pacific Legal has helped 4000 people become lawful with a success rate of 80 per cent.

But since the law change helping overstayers become legal has become more difficult.

“We would be lucky if it’s 30 per cent and people give up from exhaustion,” says Small.

“Immigration [New Zealand] just dig their heels in and do not share information where they have done things wrong.”

Community Law South Auckland’s Soane Foliaki is fighting the same battle.

“We have a woman together with her New Zealand man for five years now. He is blind totally dependant on her and immigration New Zealand have come back and said we are not renewing her visa.”

Small says the lack of transparency from Immigration New Zealand about why it rejects long-term overstayers’ requests for a visa is deeply concerning.

“It does seem like it is to make sure they do not have any real chance to be lawful.”

Overstayers wanting to make New Zealand home also want to see change, like Sione who spoke to 1News Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver.

Sione came to New Zealand to look after his New Zealand resident parents.

Both parents have died and are buried in New Zealand and Sione doesn’t want to leave their graves.

He’s a tradie who runs his own business, pays taxes, and wants to hire workers if he gets legal.

“If I get my papers I will be able to expand my business… there’s a lot of potential,” he says.

Foliaki says not giving overstayers who are contributing to New Zealand and filling in skill shortages a visa “doesn’t make sense”.

“There’s no pathway forward for them. If you’re unlawful the only pathway forward is section 61 and it’s a request not an application – absolute discretion and the answer usually is no.”

Foliaki says if overstayers work and contribute to New Zealand for two years they should be given the opportunity to file an application for residency.

He says the Government needs to be more “compassionate” towards illegal overstayers.

Compassion for overstayers is why Makahokovalu Pailate took a petition with tens of thousands of signatures to select committee asking for a residency pathway for overstayers.

“They are working, they contribute tax wise, some of them own businesses. These are good people to have in New Zealand, but unfortunately they can’t because they haven’t been given the opportunity to expand.”

The Tohi family know how precious residency is.

1News first spoke to the Tohi family 10 years ago. Their overstayer parents were on visitors’ permits so they could fight for legal status. However, their children were unable to go to school.

A decade on Melenaite Tohi is doing her PhD with the Liggins Institute.

“My sister works for CCS Disability Action, my brother works at Mt Eden Correctional Facilities as well as my other sister who followed him and my little brother he is going to be in year 11 at St Pauls’ College.”

The Tohi family hopes other families can also achieve residency like they have.