Calls for Govt to scrap discriminatory immigration policy

Laura James
Source: 1News

There are growing calls for the Government to scrap an immigration policy that measures migrants by their cost, after the UN agreed it's discriminatory.

The Acceptable Standard of Health requirement is splitting families and advocates say it's even forcing residents with New Zealand-born children to leave.

After calls for reform from the UN last month, Immigration New Zealand increased the amount someone can cost over a period of five years to be allowed into the country, with the $41,000 threshold almost doubling to $81,000.

But Greens MP Ricardo Menéndez March is concerned about the lack of consultation over that change and said it doesn't go far enough to address the recommendations given to New Zealand.

The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last month told the Government it should, "Review and amend its immigration and asylum legislation and administrative rules... to ensure that persons with disabilities do not face discrimination in any of the formalities and procedures relating to immigration and asylum, in particular as a result of the application of the Acceptable Standard of Health (ASH) requirements".

It said New Zealand should repeal the rule that makes those who need full time care ineligible to even try to seek a medical waiver.

It also wants migrants to be allowed to lodge immigration-related complaints to the Human Rights Commission, which they can't currently do.

"Politicians have heard from so many disabled migrants on how this policy has been life destroying and in fact a cross party group recommended to the Government that they changed this policy to make it strengths based," Menéndez March said.

The rules are keeping the Vásquez family in limbo in Christchurch, with 18-year-old Ignacia's student visa ending next month.

Her mother Carolina fears she won't be allowed to stay on, because with her previous visa applications she's been told, "she is likely a high cost for the Government".

She has learning disabilities and attends a special school, but her mother says she's otherwise healthy and happy.

Vásquez is a chef and dreams of starting a business and employing her daughter. The family have lived in New Zealand for eight years.

The Alfonzo family, from the Philippines, are also battling the policy.

Parents Lorigail and Allan Alfonzo are permanent residents, but their 13-year-old daughter Arianna has been denied a visa because she has autism and needs education support.

Allan has now been working in Auckland for six years, while his wife and daughter wait and fight the rejection from their home country.

Even their application for a visitor visa for Arianna in 2018 was denied.

READ MORE: 'Bordering on eugenics' - Greens want to see immigration policy scrapped

Lorigail remains hopeful something will change.

She said, "for me, autism is not a disease or any illness, you need to accept them, try to understand them, because their world is very wonderful and very colourful."

She argues every child needs some kind of different learning support.

Juliana Carvalho, who helps lead a group called Migrants Against the Acceptable Standard of Health requirements Aotearoa (MAASHA), said she can't even count how many people she's been supporting.

She fought the policy personally and eventually won.

READ MORE: Brazilian born paraplegic slams NZ immigration rule she says discriminates against disabled

But she said it was the worst season of her life.

"I was contemplating suicide because it was so harming to be hearing for many, many years, 'you are burden, you shouldn't be here', that I started to believe that.

"I went through hell and I don't want anyone else to go through it," she said.

"We're pretty much looking at the cost that that person will incur and disregarding all the other aspects of that human being."

Menéndez March has a members bill about migrant rights that'd see the policy change, but like other advocates is calling for the Government to scrap the policy altogether.

"Canada, for example, has committed to phasing out this policy.

"New Zealand is now lagging behind and our health screening processes are some of the most stringent and discriminatory in comparative jurisdictions."

Immigration New Zealand wouldn't be interviewed but in a statement said it "continues to take proactive steps to improve the health policy and decision making for residence applicants within existing health policy settings".

It says a working group has been reviewing the policy over the last 18 months and has made several changes, including removing HIV from the list of conditions deemed to cost too much.

"The group is continuing its work and is currently looking to review other medical conditions included on the list as resource allows.

"Te Whatu Ora (Health NZ) and Whaikaha (Ministry for Disabled People) will be consulted when conditions including physical, sensory, neurological, cognitive, or intellectual impairments are reviewed."

It says not meeting health requirements doesn't necessarily mean an application will be rejected, and that decisions are made on a case by case basis.

But Immigration NZ couldn't tell us how many people have been denied visas on those grounds, saying data is kept in two different systems.

1News also requested an on-camera interview with Immigration Minister Michael Wood but was told that wasn't possible today.