Government to look into overstayer petition, NZ PM says


The New Zealand Government says it will look at an overstayer petition launched by Pacific community leaders and migrant groups three years ago.

The groups are proposing Prime Minister Chris Hipkins first offer an amnesty for overstayers under compassionate grounds and residence for temporary workers.

Tongan community leader Pakilau Manase Lua says the infamous 1970s Dawn Raids – an immigration crackdown on Pacific Island overstayers – is one reason the Government must create a pathway to residence for people without visas.

Since the Dawn Raids apology by former prime minister Jacinda Ardern in August 2021, there have been an estimated 14,000 overstayers in Aotearoa, Immigration New Zealand Te Ratonga Manene reported.

Pakilau reminded the Government of its commitment to an amnesty for overstayers.

He said the next step in the development of how Aotearoa wants to perceive itself and the way Pākehā are beginning to understand who they are – is critical.

Responding to claims of government’s lack of action during a recent media conference, Hipkins agreed to look into the issue.

“I want to make sure we have a country in New Zealand where Pacific people are respected, they have a place and where we can continue to maintain a really strong relationship with their home countries,” he said.

Overstayers in south Auckland are living in secret crowded conditions and relying on community handouts for food following the recent floods in Auckland and during the Covid-19 pandemic, some Pacific leaders told Stuff.

A petition by the Pacific communities, with more than 11,000 signatures in 2020, had called for pathways to residency to be established for overstayers under compassionate grounds.

Author and church minister Mua Strickson-Pua, who witnessed some of the dawn raids, said the amnesty and pathways to residency would offer an opportunity to learn from that time and show more humanity to migrants.

“How do we respond in a way that’s worthy of our migrants? The way we treat the least of our migrant people in this country is an outcry about who we are as a nation.”

The Ministry for Pacific Peoples said the criteria for residency was far too strict and consideration needed to be given to workers who supported the country during the Covid lockdown, but whose jobs would not support a residency application.

The Migrant Workers Association said people were often focused on problems when it came to immigration, and it was refreshing to instead see solutions for temporary migrants.

For Tongan overstayers, there was nothing to go home to following the devastating volcanic eruption and tsunami that hit the Pacific nation in January 2022.

Pakilau said people were terrified of being deported. While he was not encouraging people to break the law, Pakilau said there were those who had legitimate reasons to remain in New Zealand.

“This is a very serious issue, especially for the children of overstayers. They had no choice in the decision of their parents to overstay here for whatever reason,” he said.

“We have just been through two very difficult periods of lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The overstayers and their children lived in absolute fear during this time. Yet, no pathway to residency or amnesty was applied to naturalise them as was done in Portugal and Ireland.”

Pakilau said there were overstayers already working, “contributing to the economy and were not eligible for benefits”.

“They deserve compassion. They might have been here during the lockdowns and they couldn’t go back, or they were here on a temporary visa, and it was difficult to go back due to the volcano eruption. These people want a better life, and what better place than Aotearoa New Zealand,” he said.

The Government said it was committed to upholding a fair rules-based immigration system and delivering on the goals of its immigration rebalance.

But it also said that progressing an amnesty for overstayers would be a considerable undertaking and, regardless of which group of people it may be extended to, it would take time to progress and require legislative change.

A spokesperson for Hipkins said “when asked about it last week, the Prime Minister said he hadn’t had an opportunity to look at the issue yet but intended to do so.

“That said, a regularisation opportunity was provided in 2000/01 and progressing an amnesty for overstayers would be a considerable undertaking, would take time to progress and would require legislative change,” the spokesperson said.

In May 2021, the Green Party proposed to offer an amnesty for overstayers and residency for temporary workers.

The party’s Pacific spokesperson, Teanau Tuiono, said the raids were a shameful stain on New Zealand’s history.

“It’s defined by racial tension and unrest as police and immigration authorities victimised Pacific Islanders they suspected of abusing the terms of their visas,” he said.