NZ and US need better systems for visa irregularities

The Government needs to establish a better process for helping New Zealanders detained in the US for visa irregularities, the Green Party says.

Motueka man James Kirkwood is being sent home tomorrow after being held for seven weeks in Louisiana on a visa irregularity.

“It is unacceptable for a New Zealander to be detained for seven weeks on a minor visa technicality,” Green Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Keith Locke says.

“This case should be a catalyst for sitting down with the Americans and working out a better process. The first stage should be a speedier way of ascertaining the facts. It shouldn’t have taken more that a day, through phone calls and emails, to establish that James was the victim of a paperwork mix-up.

“Once the authorities determined James was a man of good character, they could have simply released him and given him a deadline to leave the country. That is what we would have done to an American caught up in a similar visa mix-up here. There was no reason to keep James in jail prior to him leaving the country. After all, America trusts Kiwis enough to let tens of thousands of us visit visa-free every year.

“I am concerned that our Foreign Ministry people have simply been acting as apologists for the shortcomings of America’s homeland security system. It is not good enough for our Ministry spokeswoman Emma Reilly to simply say that James “could have got 14 [weeks]”. She is essentially saying he was lucky to be in jail for only seven.

“Ms Reilly also retold the silly American excuse that there was a problem getting a flight out of America.”

“We need to be tougher with the American authorities. It appears Britain has negotiated an agreement regarding the treatment of its nationals in America illegally, which is one of the reason James Kirkwood’s British colleagues were sent home after only a week in jail,” says Mr Locke.