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Fast-tracked COVID-19 immigration legislation needs safeguards

08 May 2020

Legislation being fast-tracked through Parliament to give the Minister of Immigration extraordinary powers needs safeguards, the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa told the Epidemic Response Committee yesterday (Thursday 7 May).

The Law Society said changes to the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill are needed, particularly as the bill is being passed very quickly with little opportunity for considered scrutiny.

“The Bill will give the Minister powers to make immigration decisions quickly and effectively, and the Law Society agrees that immigration legislation needs urgent amendment to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak,” Law Society spokesperson, Debra Angus, told the committee.

But the Law Society has cautioned against granting extraordinarily broad powers to the Minister without adequate safeguards.

“The Minister will have absolute discretion to issue ‘special directions’ which potentially could affect many thousands of people and will also be able to vary sections of the Immigration Act that would otherwise apply. These are extraordinary powers and need to be very carefully scrutinised,” Ms Angus said.

The Law Society told the committee it would be preferable for the new powers to be exercised through regulations or Orders in Council, which is a more considered process that can still be responsive and flexible in times of emergency.

The Law Society has also recommended other changes to the Bill to ensure the new immigration powers can be exercised in the public interest, but not at the expense of the rights held by migrants, refugees and visa applicants.

“A purpose statement could be added, to ensure the welfare of migrants, refugees and visa applicants is considered when the Minister exercises these broad powers. Alternatively, there could be a requirement that the Minister must be satisfied that special directions are not detrimental to migrants, refugees and visa applicants,” Law Society spokesperson, Mark Williams, told the committee.

The Law Society’s submission is available here

Last updated on the 8th May 2020