By Mahafrin Variava
In late 2016, the Government implemented changes to the residence programme. The effect of this was to reduce the number of places for family member migrants to obtain residence from 5,500 to 1,000 per year.
The greatest impact of the policy change had been in relation to the Parent Residence Visa Category.
Under this category, individuals who have adult children in New Zealand who are New Zealand citizens or residents can apply for New Zealand residence. Prior to the suspension of the category in 2016, there were essentially three different parent categories. The categories ranged from parents investing a substantial amount of funds into New Zealand to parents (or their sponsors) having to demonstrate a certain income in order to be able to support their applications and living expenses in New Zealand.
Aside from the above, parents also had to meet the requirements of being of acceptable health and of good character – which is standard across all visa categories. Upon arriving in New Zealand, parents were eligible to access publicly funded health services and welfare and superannuation payments upon qualifying.
The parent visa category was declared as suspended in 2016 to clear Immigration New Zealand’s backlog of applications. The decision to suspend the category was one which came as a surprise to many migrants. This included those whose parents’ applications were in progress, those who intended to submit Expressions of Interests for their parents’ applications, those who submitted Expressions of Interests and those whose parents’ applications were in the queue waiting for allocation.
On 31 October 2019, Cabinet published a paper suggesting the Government acknowledges the benefits of the parent category, stressing the contribution to the social and economic wellbeing of sponsoring families. However, the paper also noted these benefits were difficult to “objectively quantify” and outweighed by the long-term cost to the Crown of health and social benefits drawn on by parents.
Earlier that month however, the changes were announced to the parent category with perhaps the most exciting being that the parent category was scheduled to reopen in February 2020 – which some would say was perhaps the only positive. From the previously allocated 5,500 places for parents, the numbers were reduced to 1,000 per year; and the Government decided to substantially increase the income threshold at which a sponsor could support their parents.
Under the new policy, income thresholds will vary depending on the composition of the sponsoring child’s partnership status, and the number of parents to be sponsored. However, a sponsoring child who is either married or in a de facto relationship will now need to have a combined income of $212,160 with their partner in order to sponsor two parents – as opposed to a combined income of $90,000 under the old policy; this new figure being four times the median salary. These new financial requirements will be updated every year based on the New Zealand median income. Additionally, sponsors will have to provide evidence of their annual income through IRD tax statements and show that they have met the income requirement for two out of the three years before the visa application is lodged.
Why all the fuss?
Unfortunately, these policy changes will impact heavily on many migrants who were intending to bring their parents to New Zealand – simply put, a substantial number will no longer have the option.
While credit must be given to the Government for reopening the category, the vast income difference excludes the parents of many migrants New Zealand is seeking to attract. Those being the myriad of workers who arrive in New Zealand every year and contribute at all levels across the country. Those working as teachers; in the trades; and a range of other skilled occupations, who will now struggle to get anywhere near the threshold required.
For migrants this is a highly emotive issue. Many have argued the expectation that one would eventually be able to bring their parents to New Zealand was not a “legitimate expectation”. The counter to that, of course, is clear. Under previous governments, New Zealand marketed itself as a country where migrants, their children, their spouses and their parents were welcome. It marketed itself as a country which supported family connections, and its policy objectives stated that family categories were in place to “strengthen families and communities”. Many migrants bought into this, mortgaging family homes, selling land and spending savings to establish a presence in New Zealand. Migrants have arrived here on student and work visas seeking long-term pathways to residence in the hopes of one day being able to bring their parents. In their view, their social and cultural contributions, and the sacrifices they have made to be here have no value if their goal to eventually bring their parents remains unaccomplished.
However, it is also difficult to compare expectations across cultures. For example, filial piety (the Confucian concept of being respectful towards one’s parents), is central to the Chinese culture. The same can be said for the Indian culture – where the concept of a joint-family (ie, multiple generations in one home), is given priority and importance. Some cultures also place an importance on the eldest child supporting and living with their parents and others place importance on a son, looking after his parents. Therefore, what may be a legitimate expectation for one culture, may not be the same for another.
The specifics of the policy are yet to be released and we can only speculate what the policy may look like going forward. That said, with Immigration New Zealand already giving the public remuneration limitations to work with, we do not see this being received well by the industry and migrants alike.
In the meantime, migrant community newspapers continue to capitalise on the sentiments of migrants and question MPs from ethnic backgrounds on how they are representing their communities through their political positions. Although some shift the conversation to the standard “at least the parent category has reopened under the present Government” argument, others rely on rhetoric such as “…if you don’t like it and you’re threatening to go home – catch the next flight”.
There was a shift in how migration policies are looked at in 2019 and it’s fair to say that globally, these are being reviewed, scrutinised and restricted. This year will herald the first wave of migrant parents arriving under the new policy. It will be interesting to see if by restricting the policy as the Government has, it will have achieved its goal of reducing fiscal obligations on the Crown; or has it just disappointed many thousands of migrants, who consider Aotearoa home?
Mahafrin Variava Mahafrin.firstname.lastname@example.org is a Senior Solicitor based in Lane Neave’s Auckland office. She specialises in immigration matters and is a member of the New Zealand Law Society’s Immigration and Refugee Law Committee.