The Green Party will be supporting this bill. We want to remove any corruption that takes place in terms of people who make a business of assisting migrants. We want proper procedures and accountability, and the registration of immigration advisers will assist in this. But I think we have to look at the whole question of immigration advisers as, in part, a criticism of our immigration system.
We need immigration advisers for two reasons. One reason that we cannot get around completely is that a lot of people want to come to New Zealand and many of them will go to any lengths to try to get the best advice to get entrance into this country for themselves and their families. We cannot really stop that. In fact, it is a tribute to New Zealand that so many people want to come here.
One of the main reasons people go to advisers is that the Immigration Service itself is not very transparent in its processes, in terms of what people need to qualify to get into the country, etc. If the service were much more efficient in that respect, then, as in other Government departments, the advice would be given properly and adequately by the department itself without people having to get, and often paying large sums of money for, independent advice.
The very flowering of immigration advisers I think means that we need to have another look at the system.
I think that problems with immigration are reflected in the migration figures for the current year, in that although the Government had quite a high target, the latest figures I have seen show net long-term migration to New Zealand over the last 12 months to be a little under 6,000. That shows that a lot of people who cannot find ways to get in are often people we could benefit from having.
Of course, there are problems that have been identified previously, such as the English language test being set at too high a level in the past, which excludes a lot of people and tends to be more biased against Asian migrants in particular. Then there is the whole problem that has developed since about May or June last year, when Winston Peters started talking about the number of Iraqis coming in who he thought should not be coming in. He even got a lot of his information to the House wrong, and people were taking cases against him to try to get him to apologise, etc.
All of that hoo-ha produced a defensive reaction on the part of the Government in the setting up of the immigration profiling unit in the New Zealand Immigration Service. The unit employed a huge number of people to work very long hours, trawling back through all the visitor visas, immigration approvals – you name it – and creating a barrier to people, particularly those from the 54 high-risk countries, which are mainly the poorer countries whose people find it very difficult to get into New Zealand at all and, no doubt, have more recourse to immigration advisers.
I have asked the Minister – and have put down various written questions – to name those 54 high-risk countries. I was told that because of diplomatic and security reasons I as a member of Parliament could not be told any of the names of those 54 high-risk countries. I asked a second question about the criteria used to determine a high-risk country. The answer came back saying that was a diplomatic and security matter and that I could not even be given the criteria. So that is a problem.
Even people applying to come to New Zealand from those 54 countries do not know – although some of them can probably guess – that their country is defined as high risk and therefore their chances of getting in are small and they are wasting a lot of money going to immigration advisers.
There are also a whole lot of problems relating to qualifications, particularly for people who do not happen to come from Anglo-Saxon countries, such as America, England, Canada, and Australia. Their qualifications are often not looked at seriously enough. That is still a problem.
There is also a whole set of problems around the question of family unification that people go to advisers about. We MPs all know that in the end they often come to us about these questions. In terms of family unification, there are big problems for people who have an older parent or grandparent whom they want to get here. Mainly, they are deemed to be a burden on the health system, because, being older, they might just happen to have a disease. Even younger people who have a disability have a big problem coming in under the family unification criteria, and that creates a greater demand on immigration advisers.
As we have seen over the last couple of years, even when the migrants get here and become citizens they have problems. They have problems with immigration and customs at the border. I was in Hamilton on Monday night and a whole lot of people came up from the Muslim community there with all sorts of cases. As members know, the head of the New Zealand Federation of Islamic Associations, Javed Kahn, has complained in the media – and I issued a statement supporting him – that people who had been New Zealand citizens for many years are held up by the immigration and customs services when they return to this country. They are searched, interrogated, and held for 2 or 3 hours.
I was talking to Somali people who have been New Zealand citizens for some time. They are sick of it. Just going to Australia means that when they return they get held up for 2 or 3 hours. These people are citizens of this country. The Immigration Service has no reason to waste its time on citizens. If people have committed a criminal offence, then they should be checked by the police of this country, not by some Mickey Mouse immigration and customs interrogation system at the border that is not designed to cope with that level of criminality. Our immigration and custom services should be concentrating on visitors to New Zealand, not on people who are already New Zealand citizens.
Then there is a whole array of cases that involves MPs and immigration advisers, not so much at the level of migration but of getting visas to this country. It is very hard for anyone from those 54 unnamed, high-risk countries to get visitor visas to this country. An example I had recently was of a family whose members were all New Zealand citizens, and had been for some time. They were of Iraqi origin. In 1998 their mother visited them from Baghdad. She had no trouble getting a visitor visa. Now, post all this immigration profiling and the reaction to Winston Peters’ activities, the family cannot get a visitor visa for their mother to visit them in New Zealand to see her grandchildren, etc. There is no question that she would go back. She did in 1998. The reasons New Zealand Immigration gives are not specific to her. The reason for not letting these New Zealand citizens have their mother come to visit them is that she allegedly has no incentive to return to Iraq because there is a war on,. That reason applies to every single Iraqi who applies for a visitor visa to visit their relations in this country who are probably New Zealand citizens.
So a whole array of problems is producing a market for immigration advisers. This bill, of course, will help straighten things out in terms of their advice and it will make them much more accountable. But the problem is a big one.
As Pita SharpIes said, we have to look in a much more open and compassionate way at migrants coming into our country. We should not apply cultural discrimination and we should accept the different religions and languages that are involved. At the moment there is a prejudice, particularly against people from Middle-Eastem countries who might be of Islamic origin. Once we start targeting those people, as the Immigration Service is today, we create in the population racist feelings such as we are seeing on the beaches of Australia this last week.
The responsibility for what is happening in Australia is largely to do with that country’s so-called anti-terrorist campaign targeted at Muslims and with the way the Immigration Service is getting involved in it in handling people at the Australian borders. That is creating amongst the frustrated white youth in Australia a feeling that the Islamic people are the cause of their problems. We will undermine the fabric of our society if we do not deal correctly with immigration problems in our society. Do we want to go down that Australian track?
To an extent we have been down it, in terms of young people daubing the mosques; But at least the response of the Islamic community and the rest of the New Zealand was that they got together. They responded very well, building greater unity in New Zealand. So we can avoid the Australian tragedy.
We should take the discussion around immigration as a way to take a step back and look at ourselves to see whether we are getting too caught up in the American so-called war on terror and the flow-on it has in terms of prejudice.