More than 5000 parents of migrants are waiting for a moratorium on parent category visas to be lifted so they can be reunited with their children in New Zealand, but New Zealand First looks unlikely to back the removal of the ban.

The Education and Workforce Select Committee was told on Wednesday there were more than 5000 “expressions of interest” from parents looking to reunite with their children in New Zealand. The number of people waiting is likely to be well higher than that as a single application could refer to a couple.

The committee was hearing submissions from Immigration New Zealand on a petition to lift the moratorium on parents joining their migrant children in New Zealand.

Before the ban was put in place by the previous government, migrants who had obtained permanent residency and resided here for three years were able to bring their parents to New Zealand under a special category of visa.

But in October 2016 the National government put a hold to issuing of such visas. Initially the moratorium was only meant to last two years, but a decision on whether to lift it has not yet been made. Immigration Minister Ian Lees-Galloway refused to give a date for when a final decision would be announced.

“It’s something that’s under active consideration by the Government at present, when we’ve made a decision, we’ll make that public,” he said. 

The Prime Minister did not give her own view on the moratorium, deferring questions to Lees-Galloway.

Deputy Leader Winston Peters also said that the decision was that of the Minister of Immigration, but added remarks that implied he was unlikely to back the rule being reinstated. 

“With the greatest respect, if I go to the United States I can’t bring Uncle Tom Coughlan and all,” Peters said, referring to this reporter’s name. 

“With the National party, they imposed the moratorium because things were getting utterly out of hand, we had a totally unfocused immigration policy and we’re working on having a sound immigration policy that works in our interests,” he said. 

Immigration NZ policy manager, Sian Roguski told the committee the category existed to make New Zealand an attractive destination to skilled migrants, who would be more likely to choose New Zealand over other countries if they were able to migrate with their parents. 

She said this objective was balanced alongside limiting the cost to the country of hosting ageing migrant parents. 

“Where possible the costs of bringing a migrant parent to New Zealand and supporting them are to be born by the sponsoring migrants and the parents themselves,” she said. 

Parents must meet a certain standard of health, and they must also meet a set of financial criteria. 

She said that data collected by Immigration NZ showed the policy had encouraged skilled migrants to stay in New Zealand. 

Migrants under the parent category are able to access public health care, including rest home care. 

“The fiscal risk for the Crown lies in migrant parents being able to access publicly funded health care,” Roguski said.

The parents were also able to access superannuation payments, but only after a ten-year stand down period.

Roguski said that data collected by Immigration NZ showed few parents went on to claim benefits in the first years of their residency. 

She said no parents on the visa claimed benefits in the first two years of being resident in New Zealand, and 1 percent claimed benefits after being in New Zealand between two and five years. 

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