Since mid-2018 the Government has made noises about reopening the Parent Residence category from time to time.  The Minister of Immigration at the NZAMI Conference in August 2018 said that his people would be looking at it soon.  Then Immigration New Zealand indicated that an announcement about it would be made “in the first half of 2019”. Just a few days ago, the Minister said that a decision on the policy would be made before the end of his current term in office – that could push it out to late 2020.

Now, at Laurent Law we get to hear about some things before they make the mainstream news, but I have to say that there is not much good news yet.

A Cause for Shame?

From time to time, the media carries accounts of public indignation that Immigration has suspended the policy.  Unfortunately, this has also recently been tied to the generous offer to grant Residence to family members of victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings in March.  In my view the factors influencing the two issues are quite distinct, and the numbers of people affected are very different.

However, the failure to do anything decisive about the Parent route is becoming inexcusable.  Thousands of families have lodged Expressions of Interest for selection over the years – and paid a fee for the privilege.  Since October 2016, none of those EOIs can be selected in order to issue an Invitation to Apply.  However, people can still file EOIs without hindrance.  There is a certain dishonesty in this.  If the intention is, and has been, to keep the category closed indefinitely, there comes a point where Immigration should refuse to accept further EOIs (and thereby clip the ticket along the way).  Alternatively, it should be possible to get a prompt refund on request – at the moment, this is apparently only “under consideration”.  As things stand, visa fee refunds are discretionary and are only available in exceptional circumstances.

I have heard second-hand that Immigration is thinking about closing off the Tier 2 Parent category altogether and giving refunds out.  The Tier 1 category could be reopened with a new set of criteria – those who have a Tier 1 EOI in already but who don’t meet the new rules will be refunded as well (thanks to June Ranson for this intel).  We may not get anything official about this until July, so at the moment it is little better than a rumour.

Possible Solutions

There were several reasons, both official and unofficial, why the policy was suspended.  One was that sponsors did not keep to the undertakings they signed to support their parents for the first 10 years after they arrived in New Zealand.  As a result, the cost fell upon the taxpayer.  Another was that, after the parents had been settled in New Zealand, the children would go to live elsewhere, such as Australia, and leave their parents stranded here with no connections, often very little English, and perhaps languishing in a rest home. A senior Immigration official has disclosed that there is little actual evidence of such abuses, yet the Parent Category remains closed.

I, for one, have never heard of a case in which Immigration attempted to require the sponsor to fulfil their obligations.  For example, meeting those undertakings is a condition of the parent’s Residence Visa.  This means that the parent could be made liable for deportation if their child abandons them.  That’s pretty harsh, but the risk of the parent being thrown out of New Zealand should be a wake-up call to a negligent child.

Another issue has of course been the inevitable cost to the health and care systems of providing for parents as they age.  Australia has recently rolled out a scheme under which parents can apply for visas for a certain term.  This is for temporary visas, and not Residence as such.  While some aspects of the policy may not be palatable, one feature of interest is that applicants must hold suitable health insurance in order to get visas.

The accepted wisdom has been that New Zealand should not create second-class Residents by, for instance, imposing a duty on some of them to pay for their own healthcare.  Once you’re a Resident, you become entitled to all public services just like other Residents and Citizens.  This ignores the fact that we already have sub-classes of Residents for certain periods.  For example, Investors must maintain their funds in New Zealand assets for 3 or 4 years.  Perhaps there is room for making comprehensive health insurance a condition of a Parent Resident visa for, say, 10 years, in order to spread the cost of their health needs.

This is a far from perfect answer.  It could be objected that the greatest demand for health services arises as a person ages, so that a fixed-term insurance does not address the root problem.  What about urgent medical care – will a hospital refuse to admit an accident victim until they’ve seen proof of their insurance?  Thirdly, Residents whose visa conditions have not expired cannot apply for Citizenship – although the same limitation already applies to those who have already got Residence under a 10-year sponsorship condition.

The point is that, while allowing parents to remain in New Zealand for the rest of their lives will cost this country money and resources, there are ways to mitigate that cost.  The other intangible cost that our society already pays is the dislocation of families for years and decades, and the uncertainty of children whose hopes of caring for their parents in this new home have been put on ice.

Where does that factor in the upcoming Wellbeing Budget?