The parent visa category, which may be reopened soon, is criticised as too costly to the taxpayer. But perhaps the problem lies in the policy settings that permit access to welfare and health services.
Pundits expect the Government will soon make a decision on whether to reopen the parent visa category.
The category, which allowed parents to join their adult children in New Zealand if they were a resident or citizen, was closed in late 2016 to clear a backlog of applications. Almost 6000 people have been in limbo for over two years at different stages in the process.
This decision will be tough for the Government, and tough for the Minister of Immigration, Iain Lees-Galloway.
The Minister knows there is a portion of the community who have migrated here and contributed to the country but feel unsettled because of separation from their parents.
When the child migrated those parents were probably young, healthy, and safe. But as decades pass and the children see their parents age, they instinctively want to protect and look after them. The parents are often alone without support in their home country, so the children want their parents here to make sure they are looked after.
There is also benefit for these migrants in having their parents with them in New Zealand. The parents can often provide substantial support to children juggling commitments to their own children and new careers, along with the pressures of settling in a new country.
On the flipside, the Minister knows that old age brings a significant draw on Government systems, particularly health, disability services, and age care. And parents without English language ability require further support to be able to access health and social services.
The Minister also has a coalition partner with a vocal opposition to the parent category. If he reopens the category, he will have to “give that barking dog a bone”.
It seems right we should permit entry to those who had applied but were then put into limbo. They had a legitimate expectation of an outcome, and applied based on set and publicised criteria.
But some have called for the parent category to be closed based on anecdotal evidence of children bringing parents here and then leaving New Zealand taxpayers to look after them while they go overseas to presumably pursue economic opportunities.
This stance focuses on the costs of parental migration. There is a danger of seeing the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
Migrating parents do have value. As well as an economic benefit they also provide a social benefit that in my view has not been adequately researched or quantified. It is a significant benefit to society when grandparents can look after grandchildren and allow the parents of those grandchildren to work to improve the lot of the family unit. Migrating parents can add capital to their child’s endeavours toward buying a house or starting a business. This is economic development of a family that should be encouraged.
Many people complain that migrating parents cost too much to the taxpayer. But maybe the problem is the policy settings that permit access to welfare and health services?
The current Immigration Act already permits imposition of conditions on residence. Yet successive National and Labour Governments have refused to use it to require the holding of health insurance. And they have refused to permit Government hospitals to invoice those who have migrated under the parent category and who could afford such insurance.
Why? These actions would surely address the issues highlighted by critics of this policy.
We could also easily control access to state pensions when there is no record of beneficial investment or payment of tax. All it would take is some policy tweaks.
Why won’t the Government address the issues using mechanisms already available under the Immigration Act, and by adjusting other policy settings in health and welfare? Mankind put a man on the moon over half a century ago so don’t tell me this would be too hard!
Aaron Martin is one of New Zealand’s most highly regarded and experienced immigration law practitioners. He has extensive experience assisting individuals, SMEs, and large multi-national corporate clients.
He has experience in general legal practice with over 19 years of experience and a thorough working knowledge of relevant tax law and commercial issues facing investor category applicants and migrants wishing to establish businesses in New Zealand.