Notice for Refugee and Immigration Lawyers from the Refugee Status Unit
By - Fiona Whiteridge, General Manager, Refugee and Migrant Services, and the RSU Team, Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment
As you know, we are in very unusual and unexpected times. You would have seen announcements from the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister overnight about the Government’s plan to deal with, and limit the spread of COVID-19 virus in our country. The safety and wellbeing of our people, and all stakeholders are our priority.
The Minister of Health, Dr David Clark made clear in a statement yesterday that: “The Ministry of Health has produced guidance to help people understand this direction, but if in doubt cancel. Making sure we put in place social/ physical distancing rules is one of the most important things we can do to protect the public… Workplaces should, where practicable, practice physical distancing, with people no closer than one metre. In workplaces where physical distancing isn’t possible, workplaces should look at other measures which can be used to protect staff, such as working from home”. This message was reiterated emphatically by the Prime Minister in her statement last night that “…preparation is necessary for Kiwis to slow down the spread of COVID-19…People do need to be prepared. Prepare to work from home, prepare to stop non-essential travel. That is what my message would be."
In line with this, and given the potential seriousness of the outbreak, the Refugee Status Unit (RSU) will remain open and operating but with limited staff in the office, and many will be working remotely. This will have some impact on processes for determining refugee and protection status.
The priorities for RSU will be receiving and lodging claims or intentions to claim, recording these on the INZ system, and issuing claim or intention to claim letters to claimants. Physical claim forms and other documents can be posted or couriered to the RSU physical address: Level 5, Blue Tower, 167b Victoria Street West (entrance via Hardinge St), Auckland.
We ask that people do not come to the RSU reception unless absolutely necessary. The courier companies have advised that they will be working, and will not be requiring people to sign for packages.
Representatives are asked to also scan and email an electronic copy of claim forms including a full photocopy of every page of the passport from cover to cover, and other claim lodgement documents to RSU@mbie.govt.nz. That way, we can issue a Confirmation of Claim letter and not a Claim Received but with Incomplete Documentation Letter.
As stated above, the Ministry of Health recommends social distancing and limiting face to face contact among people, in particular for long periods. This will obviously affect RSU’s ability to conduct face to face interviews with claimants.
The RSU is therefore cancelling all face to face interviews for at least the next two weeks starting from Monday 23 March until Friday 3 April. This period may be extended pending further updates and advice from the Ministry of Health.
The RSU is exploring alternative options for conducting interviews, for example by teleconference or video conferencing. This will require us all to be flexible and think creatively. RPOs will be in contact with representatives and welcome your suggestions about other means by which interviews can proceed.
There will be less immediate effects on the parts of the process for which RPOs are responsible, and which do not require face to face contact. RPOs will still be issuing refugee and protection status reports and decisions, and receiving and considering submissions and other material. Please send these by courier, mail, or as attachments to an email.
It is acknowledged that representative-client relationships normally require some face to face engagement, and this will impact on your ability to proceed as normal. Please advise your RPO early if you or your client are unable to meet timeframes or otherwise proceed.
In terms of keeping yourself safe while carrying on with your work, without interacting face to face with your clients, consider using telephone conferencing and telephone interpreting services. Some options include:
- Representatives can use their usual interpreters directly. A $40/hour phone interpreting fee will apply.
- Use Ezispeak, the government telephone interpreting service. The rate for commercial organisations is $3.15 per minute ($189 per hour) so may be preferable for short conversations. The Ezispeak website is https://www.ezispeak.nz/ Their phone number is 0800 453-771
- Use another interpreting company such as Decypher or Interpreting NZ
Overall, we ask for your cooperation and understanding during these unprecedented times. Should you have any questions or want more details, please contact the RPO in the first instance or the Interpreter coordinator, Helen.Crabb@mbie.govt.nz. Please copy emails to RSU@mbie.govt.nz
We acknowledge that there might be some confusion and nervousness amongst many people, particularly those who are waiting for interviews or decisions on their claims. Please rest assured, that we are doing the best that we can in what is a rapidly changing environment. We strongly advise you to check the Ministry of Health (www.moh.govt.nz) and INZ (www.immigration.govt.nz) websites and the newly created COVID-19 website www.covid-19.govt.nz for more regular updates.
Stay well and safe. Take care.
Fiona Whiteridge , General Manager, Refugee and Migrant Services, and the RSU Team
Last updated on the 20th March 2020