Coronavirus: Immigration process needs to be fast-tracked to help overseas workers, tourists - Iain Lees-Galloway

Iain Lees-Galloway with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Iain Lees-Galloway with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo credit: File

The Immigration Minister says the visa system needs to move with more agility to help overseas workers, tourists and students.

The government will grant itself powers to manage visas in a fast-tracked bill that was introduced to Parliament yesterday.

It will enable the government to quickly manage visa changes for large numbers of migrants who are unable to leave New Zealand because of the pandemic.

The changes will also stop people from making visa applications from overseas while border restrictions are in place.

Iain Lees-Galloway told Morning Report the legislation is needed because the situation is changing quickly.

"We have a large number of people here who are on work visas at the moment, on other temporary visas, who are in an unset situation and of course we've got people who want to come here but can't."

The bill introduces eight time-limited powers allowing it to:

  • Impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary-entry visa holders
  • Vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident-class visa holders
  • Extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people
  • Grant visas to individuals and classes of people in the absence of an application
  • Waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application
  • Waive the requirement to obtain a transit visa
  • Suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit expressions of interest in applying for visas by classes of people
  • Revoke the entry permission of people who arrive either on private aircraft or marine vessels (to align them with people who arrive on commercial flights, who can already be refused entry)

He said criticism of Immigration New Zealand's delays and lack of planning show its processes do need updating.

"It is true the immigration system is a very paper-based one, we were already in the process of looking to digitise some of their work and work is underway to bring more automation to the immigration system."

"This is a huge effort that needs to be done right," he said.

About 1000 Immigration New Zealand employees haven't been able to work from home due to the lack of secure networks.

More staff are now heading into work now that we are at level 3, he said, but offshore offices remain closed.