New Zealand Law Society - Simon Graham - Immigration and Refugee Law Committee

Simon Graham - Immigration and Refugee Law Committee

An email inviting lawyers to join the Law Society’s law reform committees prompted Simon Graham, a Partner at Young Hunter Lawyers, to apply. 

Fast forward three years and Simon is now the convenor of the Immigration and Refugee Law Committee, where his experience in refugee and immigration law is proving invaluable. 

Advocating for the rights of refugee claimants  

One of the most interesting pieces of work the committee has been involved was an independent review of the processes and procedures for detaining refugee claimants who have been declined a visa or are unlawfully in New Zealand.  

In 2021 Immigration New Zealand commissioned an independent review by Victoria Casey KC and subsequently sought feedback from the Law Society and other stakeholders about how to best implement the recommendations from that review. 

“Our role involved looking at a number of aspects to do with how refugee claimants can be detained,” Simon says. “Alongside other stakeholders, we provided feedback on how we can modify the systems and processes for detaining asylum claimants in a way that enhances their access to justice and upholds New Zealand’s human rights obligations.” 

Policy changes 

Simon describes the policy changes that have already been made as a positive first step. 

There is now an internal panel that is the first point of referral for refugees who have been before the courts, been detained and/or released under conditions.  

“It’s a robust assessment process that means that people can have confidence that the process is fit for purpose,” he says. 

Immigration New Zealand is now in the second phase of making changes to how it deals with refugees and potential overstayers, including making their approach more respectful and ensuring the dignity of those involved.  

Simon has been impressed with how Immigration New Zealand has responded to the review’s work. 

“They have responded with an open mind and really come to the party,” he says. 

Other advocacy work 

More recently, the committee contributed to a letter to the new Minister of Immigration highlighting the committee’s key priorities and inviting the Minister to discuss those issues with the committee further.  

A key issue raised in the letter related to the review of the Victims of Family Violence Visa, which was put on hold last year.  

“Our committee believes there are pressing issues with these visas, which remain to be addressed,” says Simon. “So, we will continue to advocate for the review and look to provide feedback on changes to the policy settings for this visa when the review recommences.” 

The committee is currently also looking into issues which impact refugee claimants’ ability to obtain temporary work visas.  

“A decision to decline a work visa places an already vulnerable claimant in a more precarious financial situation, with no ability to work or to provide for themselves until their refugee claim is determined,” says Simon. “We will continue to engage with Immigration New Zealand to ensure those decisions are made by considering each applicant’s circumstances.” 

Rewarding work 

Simon says he wouldn’t hesitate to recommend being involved in law reform committees to any lawyer who is interested. 

Committee membership allows lawyers to be more involved in advocating for meaningful reforms and changes to improve access to justice. In addition to making submissions on bills and discussion documents, Immigration and Refugee Law Committee members also have the opportunity to engage with Immigration New Zealand, the Refugee Status Unit and the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, and provide feedback on important issues which impact migrants and refugees.  

“While as convenor my workload has stepped up, which can be challenging in terms of time, it is rewarding at the same time,” Simon says.  

And Simon is full of praise for committee support provided by the Law Society’s Senior Law Reform and Advocacy Advisor, Nilu Ariyaratne. 

“She does the lion’s share of the work,” he says. “And she’s brilliant at it.” 

About Simon 

Simon is a Partner at Christchurch firm Young Hunter Lawyers. He provides advice and representation on all aspects of immigration litigation including deportation appeals, refugee and protected person appeals, residence appeals, immigration fraud and High Court appeals.