Migrants band together as a stalemate galvanises action

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According to the president of a migrant rights organisation, an immigration stalemate has galvanised immigrants into motion.

Migrants NZ, a group of thousands of refugees, is establishing a federation with the Migrant Workers Association, the Migrant Rights Network, and the Association of New Kiwis Aotearoa (ANKA).

According to ANKA president Charlotte te Riet Scholten-Phillips, there is a sense that pressure is building to reform a “broken” structure.

“People have given up everything to come here – people who have come here to study have taken out loans to pay their fees, people have sold their houses, cashed in their retirement funds, and they give it all up to come here and work here and contribute, and be part of this community and then they’re told essentially ‘you’re very welcome to pay taxes for a bit but we don’t really want you to stay’. It’s just horrific actually.”

The British national, who works as the foreign programmes manager for a charity in Wellington, said migrants were struggling with problems such as shifting visa requirements, the suspension of new applicants under the Expression of Interest (EOI) scheme, and sluggish residency processing.

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Her five-year-old daughter will begin kindergarten next month. Meanwhile, the family’s residence EOI is on hold until the immigration minister, Kris Faafoi, announces a decision on whether the EOI vote will be reopened – and until they become tenants, they cannot purchase a house and are unsure regarding their future.

“It’s frustrating and it’s stressful because you don’t know if you can stay or if at some point someone’s going to say we don’t want your skills anymore or we’re not going to renew your visa. When you’ve got a family it’s not nice to feel temporary anywhere.”

More than 7000 applicants are in the same boat, and thousands more are awaiting a verdict on their residence proposal, which follows a satisfactory EOI.

Following a petition signed by over 64,000 citizens requesting that temporary visa holders be granted citizenship, they will stage a rally and attend an immigration debate in Parliament next month.

Legislation to expand emergency deportation powers for another two years is now being debated in Parliament.

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“We hear it all the time that New Zealand has been so successful in combating the pandemic because we’re a team of five million.

“It doesn’t feel like that if you’re a migrant. It feels very much like there’s 246,000 of us who are not really part of that team. And so we refer to it now as the team of 4.6 million,” te Riet Scholten-Phillips told the education and workforce committee.

“We feel that the immigration system here is broken. For years New Zealand has been telling the world, ‘Come here, you’re welcome, we need skilled migrants. This is an amazing place to live and it’s an amazing place to raise your family’.

“And of course it is – absolutely agree with that. But what’s been very well hidden is how hard it is to gain permanence here, how hard it is to gain residence and how hard it is to gain citizenship. And the thing is, if you want to have skilled migrants here, they’re going to be older, they’re going to be people who come with families.”

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She hoped other migrant groups would join the Federation of Aotearoa Migrants (FAM) to build a united front against decisions they believe are disadvantaging immigrants.

“It’s very easy [for the government] to split groups up and say ‘we’ll give you a little bit’, for example a few split migrant families – but the number of people benefiting from that is really quite small – and strangely for a Labour government, largely based on income.

“It feels like there’s some momentum building, as if we’re reaching breaking point.”

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