Field Affair Encourages Migrant Shakeup (New Zealand)

Field affair encourages migrant shakeup
New Zealand Herald

Wednesday September 6, 2006
By Ruth Berry

The Government appears likely to slash the number of immigration applications the Associate Immigration Minister will be able to review, after concern it may be creating “de facto” policy.

Claims that those ministerial powers had been unfairly exercised in favour of applicants supported by Mangere MP Phillip Field were the first step in the process which sparked the Ingram inquiry.

Following the release of the Ingram report, the Herald asked Immigration Minister David Cunliffe's office if any changes to the way the associate minister's discretionary powers were exercised were being considered and was told “no”.

In fact, changes on this front had already been proposed in a discussion document on Immigration Act changes issued by Mr Cunliffe before the Ingram report was released, but after the Labour Department was made aware of the problems.

Asked to reconcile this yesterday Mr Cunliffe said: “Ministers will continue to make discretionary decisions, there are no plans to change that.”

But he confirmed plans to devolve a potentially significant number of discretionary powers to immigration officials were under consideration.

Under the act the Associate Minister has the power to intervene on any immigration decision, although he or she will ordinarily do so at the last stage of the decision-making process.

About 400,000 application decisions are made a year.

Complaints were laid early last year with the police by immigration consultant Tim Spooner, after Sunan Siriwan and his wife sought a ministerial direction for a work permit through another consultant.

The application was rejected by then Associate Immigration Minister Damien O'Connor but, after a later approach by Mr Field on the pair's behalf, he changed his mind, triggering the claims of favouritism.

Asked if the issue had raised questions of fairness, Mr Cunliffe said yesterday: “without commenting of course on any individuals, I don't believe the system is perfect.”

An immigration advisers bill was due to be passed and the changes to the Immigration Act would involve looking at processes and policy to ensure “cases are treated fairly and properly and that we get the best decisions”.

The discussion paper said there was increasing public pressure on ministers to intervene in individual cases under the present law, raising questions about whether it was the best use of ministerial resources.

Those who did approach the minister first avoided the usual departmental fees, which was unfair. There were other inconsistencies.

“There is a risk of creating de facto immigration policy if all personal representations are responded to by the Minister of Immigration and the exceptions are routinely made,” the document said.

“It reduces the incentive for applicants to follow established immigration processes.”

Mr Cunliffe said ministerial powers on intervention were an important last resort, but changes to the number and types of cases considered were under review.

National immigration spokesman Lockwood Smith said a minister's power to intervene was important but there probably were an unrealistic number of cases going to the minister.

Mr Field had made 438 representations over three years, just over half of which were upheld, he said.

“I just don't think the system is designed for so many cases to be brought by MPs.”

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