In a letter to the Prime Minister, Auckland diocese’s Justice and Peace Commission has reiterated its earlier calls for an amnesty for overstayers in this country.
The letter noted that thousands of these people have lost their jobs, and have found themselves unable to access many forms of Government support, forcing them to live crowded together in inadequate housing, which is fertile ground for the Covid-19 virus to spread.
The commission also wrote about the fears many temporary migrants and overstayers have about coming forward to get tested for Covid-19.
While it is true that overstayers coming forward for a test will not be prosecuted, as DHBs cannot legally share information with Immigration NZ about the immigration status of individuals, these people need greater assurances, as their level of trust is not high, the letter stated.
“We are disappointed at the reluctance of the Government to respond to this issue with any sense of urgency, and the lack of a substantive framework of support for temporary migrants and overstayers in this pandemic crisis.”
The JPC called for the Government “to offer an unconditional amnesty to New Zealand’s overstayers while our borders are closed, so that they can receive health assistance and Covid-19 testing with impunity, as well as financial assistance, and the full range of other support as full members of the ‘team of five million’ united against this virus”.
“When New Zealand’s borders are re-opened, we ask that the Government establishes an amnesty, subject to defined criteria, which would allow overstayers to either regularise their immigration status or, otherwise, be repatriated home.”
Then-Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway responded in July to earlier requests from the JPC in this area.
In June, the Government announced a three-month time-limited assistance package for migrant workers, starting from July 1.
The $37.6 million support package reportedly provided essentials like food, housing and over-the-counter medication, but not financial assistance. It has been available only if returning home by temporary visa holders isn’t immediately possible, and if the person is experiencing serious hardship, and all other avenues of potential support have been exhausted, such as access to savings or other assets, insurance cover, consular assistance from their own foreign missions, or help from family and friends.
The package replaced previous assistance available through the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Groups.
In July, the Government announced it was extending temporary work visas, due to expire by the end of 2020, by six months. This affected 16,500 workers according to a press release from Mr Lees-Galloway.