The Government is accused of putting a ‘band-aid’ on an issue impacting thousands of migrants by inviting the families of high-skilled, high income contractor and employees to apply first.

Officials estimate 450 partners and children will be first in line for family reunification – amid criticism the government is giving preferential treatment to high-income overseas workers.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says new border exceptions to reunite critical workers with their families will come into effect next Friday, on April 30. Immigration NZ would resume processing visa applications from families of critical workers, skilled migrants and temporary migrant visa holders.

While he didn’t have an exact number for how many migrants were still separated, Faafoi said it would be in the “thousands”. 

A Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment spokesperson said it was unclear the total number of people eligible under these new exemptions, but 450 people would be eligible for the exemption if they were under the “partners and dependent children” category.

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Faafoi accepted many families will not be reunited but stressed since borders closed exemptions had allowed 13,000 family members of citizens and residents into the country.

Another 1300 temporary work visa holders, and their families, who normally live here and were overseas when the borders closed, he said.

“We are in the midst of a global pandemic, which requires strict border restrictions. But we have been mindful of the difficulties migrant workers and families have faced,” Faafoi said.

“More than 2500 family members of critical workers have also entered to date. These latest exceptions are expected to allow hundreds more migrants to come to New Zealand and join their families.

“None of these decisions are easy.”

The minister said one of the basis of identifying skilled workers was by salary. Families of highly skilled migrants earning at least twice the median salary or $106,080 per year could apply.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says reuniting critical workers with their families was important to retain them as their skills are crucial to rebuilding the economy. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Faafoi said critical workers had been a focus as retaining their talent was necessary in New Zealand’s economic recovery from Covid-19.

But migrant workers advocate Mandeep Bela said it was “sad” to see the government prioritising some families over others. 

“Families are not being treated equally,” Bela said. 

He said the announcement suggested families of critical workers earning a high salary were more important than others.

He said the reuniting families was a “bandaid” response from the government following mounting public pressure to resolve the issue of separated families.

Bela said the Government must provide a timeline for which visas Immigration NZ would process next.

“The government should announce a clear sequencing on how and when all type of visa holders will be allowed back.

“This is where the Minister of Immigration should use his powers to extend the expiry date of groups of visa holders rather than waiting for all visa holders stuck offshore to have their visa expired,” Bela said.

The workers rights advocate said Immigration NZ could also resume its permanent residency ‘expression of interest’ application process.

He said Immigration NZ had taken the fees to resource the processing of permanent residencies but, applicant’s had been waiting to hear back for more than a year. He said in the mean time many had lost their jobs.

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