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Immigration blocks pathway for at-risk Afghans to settle in New Zealand

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 30/11/2021
© RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Immigration NZ has closed down an avenue opened by a court last week last week for Afghans trapped there after the Taliban came into power to get a visa.

The High Court ruled Immigration NZ was wrong to deny exceptions to grant them visas, based on humanitarian grounds existing in their home country.

But Immigration NZ has now issued instructions [file:///C:/Users/mmahony/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/Content.Outlook/UPF08EAE/Amendment%20Circular%202021-56.pdf to re-close this avenue.]

"A humanitarian crisis occurring outside of New Zealand is not relevant to the determination of a request to travel to New Zealand," it said last night in an internal circular.

Community Law Centres Aotearoa was not surprised.

"It is cynical but it's not unexpected," said chief executive Sue Moroney.

They had rushed through visa applications last week to get in ahead of this, she said.

The immigration changes, which apply from yesterday, also alter the "humanitarian" exception for getting a critical purpose visa, to "compassionate" grounds.

"When determining whether an applicant meets the compassionate entry requirements, factors that are not considered relevant include whether ... the applicant has been affected by a humanitarian crisis occurring outside of New Zealand," Immigration NZ said.

These "compassionate" grounds were less clear and not as well understood internationally, Moroney said.

The speed of Immigration NZ's response to the court ruling was ironic, she said.

"It's interesting to us to note that Immigration New Zealand can act with pace and haste when it suits them.

"We have had really sensible proposals in front of them for years ... and they have been telling us they don't have the policy capacity to actually do that simple piece of work, yet here almost overnight they could do the policy work to support this change."

A second avenue, also won in court last week, for refugee family support visas, remains open.

Immigration NZ was ordered to restart processing these, for applications lodged before Covid-19 restrictions closed the border.

Moroney said so far two out of at least 70 Afghans their centres represent have got a visa in recent days this way.

These two are the Afghan applicants named in the court case. Their identities are suppressed.

"We expect the others to follow," Moroney said.

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