Chelsea Manning granted permission to apply for NZ visa

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) has confirmed US whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been granted permission to apply for a New Zealand visa. 

She can now apply for a specific purpose work visa to come to New Zealand for two planned speaking events in Auckland and Wellington, INZ general manager Steve Stuart said in a statement. 

Ms Manning needed a special direction as she is subject to character provisions in section 15 of the Immigration Act 2009.

Immigration NZ said it does not usually detail reasons for granting a special direction. But it has provided reasons for its decision in view of the "widespread media and public interest" in this case. 

"The decision to grant a special direction was made by an appropriately delegated immigration officer," Mr Stuart said. 

"While Ms Manning was convicted of a serious offence and sentenced to 35 years' imprisonment, it was noted that her sentence was commuted by President Obama in January 2017."

The assessment of Ms Manning noted that she has not reoffended since her release from prison and the likelihood of her offending while in New Zealand is considered low. 

It was also noted that she has "travelled to a number of countries to speak at similar events and appears to have complied with the terms and conditions of any visas issued," Mr Stuart added. 

"In reaching the decision the officer could see no reason to believe Ms Manning would not comply with the terms and conditions of any visa issued by INZ."

The Minister of Civil Defence and Customs Kris Faafoi told The AM Show Ms Manning's visa decision sat with Immigration New Zealand, and if her application was rejected, the decision would land with him. 

She's been granted a special direction which allows exceptions to be given to a person who is not eligible for a visa, entry permission, or a visa waiver under section 15 or 16 of the Immigration Act 2009. 

Those who don't meet Immigration NZ's standards could be excluded for having served a prison sentence of five years or more, or someone who has been removed or deported from New Zealand at any time. 

There are also restrictions under the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 against those who are members of terrorist entities, and Mr Faafoi could step in as Customs Minister to block a person's visa if he believes they are likely to commit an offence in New Zealand. 

Ms Manning has been barred from entering Australia and speaking at an event because of her previous convictions, and there have been calls to block the former US Army intelligence analyst's visa to New Zealand. 

The National Party said this week the Government should refuse to allow Ms Manning to visit New Zealand because, as party leader Simon Bridges said, she's a "convicted felon". 

"Ordinary rules should apply, there shouldn't be special treatment," he said. 

Ms Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison and spent seven years behind bars for leaking military files to Wikileaks. 

Her sentence was commuted by former US President Barack Obama, and she was released from prison in May 2017 after a tumultuous seven years behind bars which included two suicide attempts and a hunger strike. 

New Zealand has had its fair share of high-profile people in the past apply for visas only to be rejected on character grounds. Mr Faafoi said each case it dealt with individually. 

In 2014, hip-hop artist Tyler, the Creator and his rap group Odd Future were banned from entering New Zealand for a concert after Immigration New Zealand deemed them a "threat to public order or the public interest".

Boxer Mike Tyson was also banned from entering New Zealand in 2012 because of his 1992 rape conviction.

Odd Future's visas were revoked just an hour before their flight to New Zealand, according to The Atlantic, and the same could have happened to Ms Manning because of her convictions.

Support for Ms Manning to speak in New Zealand came from Green foreign affairs spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman who said Ms Manning has "always acted for the good of the people and democracy" and had paid a high price for it.

"She very bravely put herself on the line to expose some misuses of power and actually expose things that were against the public interest," she said.

Ms Manning was denied entry into Canada late last year but was subsequently allowed to appear at another event.

She is due to speak at Auckland's Q Theatre on September 8 and at Wellington's Embassy Theatre on September 9.