COVID-19: Government package for temporary visa holders slammed as 'inadequate'

The Government launched its $37.6m packager on Tuesday.
The Government launched its $37.6m packager on Tuesday. Photo credit: Getty

The Government's package to help foreign nationals stuck in New Zealand and facing serious hardship has been slammed as "inadequate" by advocates including the Human Rights Commission.

On Tuesday, the Government launched a $37.6 million programme allowing foreigners to apply for help to meet basic needs such as food and accommodation. 

Goods and services will be delivered to struggling foreign nationals for three months, but Community Law Centres chief executive Sue Moroney says the Social Security Act already allows an emergency benefit for migrants.

"This is the one occasion where that particular part of the Act should be enacted and it just hasn't been and it's beyond belief," the former Labour MP told Newshub.

There's also concern the package is too restrictive, and Moroney said it will be costly to administer.

According to the Human Rights Commission, the 12-week package only allows people to have a maximum of four weeks' support.

"What they need help with is really with their living costs because they've been stuck here for months," Moroney said.

"If they had savings to start off with they certainly haven't got anything now."

Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt said the provision of emergency financial assistance needed to be extended urgently.

"Temporarily extending the coverage of the emergency benefit would much more effectively ensure that the welfare and rights of temporary migrants are protected. 

"In any event, coverage under this new scheme should at least match the emergency benefit, given the alarming situation many temporary migrants in New Zealand currently find themselves in.

"The Government has a responsibility under international law to support the welfare of everyone in New Zealand during the COVID-19 emergency, regardless of their nationality."

Paul Hunt.
Paul Hunt. Photo credit: File

The Department of Internal Affairs says it's working in partnership with the Red Cross to deliver the support.

"We are pleased to be working with [the] New Zealand Red Cross to deliver temporary, in-kind assistance to eligible people," department deputy chief executive Maria Robertson said in a statement earlier this week.

Poto Williams.
Poto Williams. Photo credit: Parliament TV

Community and Voluntary Sector Minister Poto Williams last month said the programme would provide short-term assistance until people could support themselves or return home.

"Due to the exceptional circumstances that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused, this programme will continue the assistance provided by the Civil Defence and emergency management groups."