Migrant advocates are calling on the Government to grant overstayers amnesty as they avoid getting vaccinated over fears of deportation

Despite reassurances from the Government that IDs are not required to get vaccinated, overstayers are reporting they are still being asked for passport identification, phone numbers and home addresses, deterring them from getting jabbed, migrant advocates say.

In August, the Bay of Plenty District Health Board (DHB) apologised after vaccination centres asked Pasifika families to provide their passports as ID for their vaccination to check if they were seasonal workers.

Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio said at the time that the DHB’s actions were in error and would not happen again.

But just weeks later, the DHB is being accused of this happening again.

Over the long weekend, a Pasifika family, with members who are overstayers, were asked for their passports, home address and phone number at two vaccination centres in Tauranga, the Baypark Stadium and Tauranga Crossing Shopping Centre.

Fearing this information would be shared with immigration and result in deportation, the family left the centre without getting vaccinated, says Migrant Workers Association advocate Garry Sandhu.

“They were scared and thought [the centre] might feed through the information to immigration. So they returned without vaccination,” Sandhu says.

“I know dozens of overstayers in the Bay of Plenty. All say they won’t vaccinate because the Government may use their details to deport them.”

Pacific Leadership Forum’s Makahokovalu Pailate, who is also aware of the family being asked for identification, says the overstayers then warned about a dozen others who also, willing to get vaccinated, refused to do so out of fear.

He says there are at least 14,000 overstayers in the country, many of whom are from the Pacific Islands and have lived in the country for decades.

Pailate says he followed up the family’s report with the Bay of Plenty DHB, which told him it had sorted the matter and requested he send the family back to get vaccinated.

But Pailate says overstayers have lost trust in the DHB and fear the system.

“These people are so scared to get vaccinated. Anyone who has visited the doctor once has a national health index (NHI) number, so I don’t know why this DHB keeps asking people to show their ID and give their personal information,” Pailate says. 

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says the Government is not considering linking vaccination with an incentive offering amnesty or visas. Photo: Robert Kitchin

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says this should not have happened and the matter would be investigated. 

He says access to Covid testing and vaccination is available to everyone in the country irrespective of their immigration status, reiterating that information provided for testing or vaccination will not be passed on to immigration officials.

“The Government has also clearly stated that everyone in New Zealand – 12 years old or older – is eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine and should get vaccinated to keep themselves, their whānau and their communities safe, and they can do that knowing that it will not lead to Immigration New Zealand pursuing them over any issues with their immigration status,” Faafoi says.

“The Government’s message to overstayers regarding Covid testing and vaccination remains the same.”

Bay of Plenty DHB Covid-19 senior responsible officer Brent Gilbert-De Rios says while identification is not required, at times people may be asked to confirm the spelling of their names, and some contact information is requested in case they need to be contacted following their vaccination. 

“We understand that some members of the public were recently asked for identification to confirm the spelling of their names. The vaccine provider has reminded its staff that it is unnecessary to request identification from anyone, at any point, when they are wanting to receive the Covid-19 vaccine,” Gilbert-De Rios says.

“Identification is not required, but staff will ask for people’s name, date of birth, and contact details to match their vaccination to their NHI, or to create an NHI if someone does not already have one. This information is recorded in the Covid Immunisation Register (CIR) and is an essential safety mechanism.”

The DHB says the NHI is unique to health and cannot be accessed by other agencies for immigration or tax purposes. It holds a different standing in government data, including not being part of any shared database.

“It’s not an immigration or a migration-related issue anymore. It’s become a health issue. So there needs to be a health response to this matter.”
– Anu Kaloti, Migrant Workers Association

DHBs around the country are working towards achieving 90 percent double vaccination, but migrant advocates fear national efforts may be hampered by overstayers not getting vaccinated due to their details being shared with Immigration NZ.

But Migrant Workers Association president Anu Kaloti says unvaccinated overstayers may pose a public health risk.

“The more people we have in this situation, the greater the risk. I think that the right thing to do here is to deal with the matter and make sure those people are safe in terms of Covid and in terms of their immigration status,” Kaloti says.

“It’s not an immigration or a migration-related issue anymore. It’s become a health issue. So there needs to be a health response to this matter.”

Kaloti says if overstayers are granted amnesty then they will not object to providing their identification details.

“We know a lot of [overstayers] work in the horticulture sector where they’re exposed all the time, and they can be a huge risk to the rest of the population. So it makes sense to document them not just for their own sake, but for the rest of the population.”

Green Party MP Ricardo Menéndez March says there is a lack of trust among overstayers in the Government and authorities.

“Despite the reassurance from the ministers, there’s hesitations from the community and they’re rightful hesitations because these are groups who have been marginalised by successive governments, scapegoated … So I think the first step should be for the Government to create a method to build trust, and access to those communities. And that should be an amnesty.”

Pacific Leadership Forum’s Makahokovalu Pailate has also been petitioning the Government to legalise overstayers under section 61 of the Immigration Act 2009 that allows Immigration NZ to grant a temporary visa.

But Faafoi says the Government is not considering linking vaccination with an incentive offering amnesty or visas.

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