OVERSTAYERS: Samoa, China and India top NZ’s overstayers list
Samoa is New Zealand’s top-ranked country for the largest decrease in overstayers since 2000. China and India are at the bottom with the highest increase in overstayers for the same period. A different perspective for Samoa from a 2012 headline that read, Samoa, India and China top deportation list.
Yesterday, the government congratulated itself by releasing latest estimates showing a 45 per cent decrease (just under 10,000) in the number of overstayers in New Zealand, for the period July 2000 to January 2016.
Samoa leads the list with a 61 per cent decrease in the number of overstayers (from 5,456 to 2,124). Tonga also had a significant 53 per cent decrease in overstayer numbers (from 5,073 to 2,381).
However, over the same period, Chinese overstayers increased by a massive 120 per cent, while Indians increased by 69 per cent.
But Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has batted away the Chinese and Indian trend-buckers by saying, “You have to put that in the context of the far greater number of Chinese nationals coming to New Zealand for any reason – whether it’s for tourism, for study, skilled work.”
Instead he focused praise on Immigration New Zealand for reducing overstayer numbers and the corresponding cost savings to the tax payer.
“The latest figures show the Government’s focus on improved security at the border and decisive action to deal with overstayers continues to pay dividends,” Mr Woodhouse stated yesterday.
“The current estimate is 45 per cent lower than the overstayer estimate a decade ago of more than 20,000. At the same time, removal and deportation costs have more than halved from $3 million in 2005/06 to $1.3 million in 2014/15.
“I congratulate Immigration New Zealand on the work they are doing alongside other agencies in ensuring that those who do become overstayers, leave quickly.”
But Immigration lawyer Richard Small told Radio NZ that instead of celebrating numbers, the government should look at the human stories behind the statistics and take a more caring response to each case accordingly.
He said overstayers often had good reasons to stay that did not involve working illegally including those, especially Pacific islanders, trying to stay in New Zealand to look after sick relatives, or because their homes had been destroyed by cyclones.
“People who for example are caring for terminally ill family members and for whom there is no family visa and no option,” he said.
“We might [also] be talking about people whose home island – in the last three years we have had three or four devastating cyclones in the Pacific – is no longer viable.”
Labour’s Pacific spokesperson, Su’a William Sio, having just returned from a trip to cyclone vulnerable Kiribati and Tuvalu, backed up Mr Small.
He said from the many Pasifika overstayers he had spoke to, it was often not as simple as just sending them back.
“When the cyclone hit Tonga a year ago, I know immigration was deporting people to the mainland of Tonga, when those people lived on Ha’apai – which was the most affected island,” Su’a told Radio NZ.
“We had a huge argument – some of the people here – who could not go back to Ha’apai, because there was nothing for them to go back to.”
Mr Small put in a suggestion to the New Zealand government that they would do well to copy Australia’s carer visa that would allow a lawful avenue for people who offered a benefit to New Zealand by caring for relatives who would otherwise need care from their district health board.
Mr Small also pointed out that the overstayer situation could increase in the future with the number of children born in New Zealand, but who were not citizens, who could add hundreds – or even thousands – to the estimates of overstayers.
And these children/potential overstayers would be highly vulnerable to deportation as result of a change to the Immigration Act in 2010.
The Immigration Act 1987 states that a deportation occurs when someone holding a New Zealand residence permit is convicted of an offence. The number of deportations between 2007 and November 2010 was just 118 people.
However once the act was amended so deportation describes “all processes for requiring a foreign national who has no right to remain in New Zealand to leave”, it has been revealed that the majority of deportations have been overstayers.
However, there is a positive from the Immigration New Zealand report. That the department negotiated the voluntary departure of many more overstayers rather than formally deporting them. More than over 1200 people left New Zealand voluntarily in the 2014-2015 financial year.
Su’a said he was pleased the department was taking that approach. “That’s sort of what my office … and lawyers in the Pacific community have been arguing for quite some time.”
The overstayer factsheet, which includes a breakdown of overstayers by nationality, can be found under the Immigration law/compliance heading atwww.immigration.govt.nz/migrant/general/generalinformation/media/.