Immigration System Overhauled

 01 July 2003 - Herald

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Immigration policy has been overhauled, shutting the door to an estimated 10,000 hopeful immigrants and costing the Government $9 million in refunded fees.

The changes see the general skills category scrapped and replaced with an overhauled skilled migrant category with a new points system.

Immigration Minister Lianne Dalziel said the most "significant change in immigration policy in a decade" would hit many people immediately.

There is a backlog of more than 20,000 applicants under the current system who will be caught up by the legislation that takes effect from tomorrow.

Of the 20,000 current applicants at risk of being lapsed, those already in New Zealand would be better off than those applying from overseas.

"They will be distinctly advantaged, the ones in New Zealand, particularly those that already have a skilled job offer... they will go to the top of the list," Ms Dalziel said.

The Government introduced two bills immediately after the announcement - the Immigration Amendment Bill and the Immigration Amendment Bill (No 2). It intends passing the second bill under urgency this week, with the major changes taking effect from tomorrow. It will apply retrospectively.

Ms Dalziel estimated up to 10,000 of those caught by the new legislation would not meet new priority criteria and their applications would have deemed to be lapsed.

Refunding their application fees would cost the Government $9 million.

"The backlog is going to be prioritised and those that meet the priority will continue to have their applications processed... the rest will be lapsed," Ms Dalziel said.

Many of those who applied would have never gained successful employment and were "going to fail".

"There will be those who will be disappointed... but I believe it would be worse to bring people here, delay implementation for two years and then knowingly bring people here to fail."

The points system was flawed because it gave people false hope.

The main change means those seeking residency under the general skills category will no longer have the automatic right to have their application considered under the points system.

In the future, potential immigrants would have to express an interest and if they are deemed worthy by immigration officials then will be invited to apply. Those who do not meet the grade will have no right of appeal.

The potential immigrant who clears the first hurdle would then work their way through a revamped points system.

"There is no point bringing talented and skilled people into New Zealand only to see that talent and skill wasted through unemployment or underemployment," Ms Dalziel said.

Ms Dalziel did not believe the changes would lead to the numbers of people coming to New Zealand drying up.

Almost $2 million would be spent enticing people to apply for residency.

The Government has a target of 45,000 migrants a year. Of these, 60 per cent come in under the skill/business category and it is the general skills category which would be changed to the revamped skilled migrant category.

The new points system would include bonus points for those with skills that were in short supply in New Zealand and for potential immigrants going to jobs outside Auckland.

Ms Dalziel also said there would be tougher screening of those expressing an interest, meaning many applicants who misled authorities would have no right of appeal.

The changes would also mean fewer people who qualified for residency would end up in dead-end jobs.

"These changes are designed to ensure migrants who are selected because of their skills and talent are set up to succeed not destined to fail. New Zealanders do not want to see skilled migrants driving taxis, cleaning offices and cooking hamburgers," Ms Dalziel said.

The new categories and points system would come into force later this year or early next. In the meantime an interim category would fill the gap left by the dumping of the general skills category.

To qualify, people would require 29 points and a relevant job offer.

Ms Dalziel also signalled further changes to toughen up medical tests and further changes to the investor category in August.

Last November the Government tightened up the language criteria and is facing a legal challenge over parts of the retrospective nature of that decision.

Ms Dalziel said the sudden nature of today's law changes and announcements were necessary to stop a flood of applications.

Further tinkering with the points system was not the answer as New Zealand would have remained a "passive receiver".

- NZPA