A Friendship Without (Immigration) Benefits

New Zealand flags. (Credit: Marty Melville/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images).

Below is a New York Times article published jointly with ‘Australia: ‘Votes’ on a 26-Year-Old’s Travel Plans.

An Unlawful Detour

5 July 2017

Tacey Rychter, Adam Baidawi and Isabella Kwai

Put the sporting competition to one side: Australians view New Zealand as their closest ally — closer than the UK, closer than the United States. But is there a head-scratching incongruence to the way Kiwis are treated as migrants?

It’s a question that’s bubbled to the surface after revelations that two men who hold dual Australian-New Zealand citizenship were illegally sent to detention on Christmas Island. The pair were detained under Section 501 of the Migration Act, which cites a “character test” that foreign nationals can fail because of a criminal offense. What Australian Border Force authorities failed to realize, though, was that the two men were also Australian citizens — and as such, exempt from those laws.

Here’s a fact that might raise eyebrows: As of May, New Zealanders are the most-represented nation in Australian detention centers. But how did this happen? Slowly, it turns out.

Is Australian policy too harsh toward its closest ally?

The two countries’ policies toward each other’s citizens are lopsided.

Unsurprisingly, Kiwis are the second-biggest migrant group in Australia (after Britons): They make up more than 600,000 of the country’s population. The tightknit Australia-New Zealand relationship has long been underscored by the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, which allows citizens of both countries to travel, live and work freely between them. Indefinite visas, pathways to citizenship, access to government benefits are all on the table — or were.

Piece by piece, successive Australian governments have eroded the benefits offered to migrating New Zealanders.

Immigration laws passed in 2001 made the path to Australian citizenship more difficult for New Zealanders and blocked them from gaining access to benefits like social security.

And in 2014, the Australian government amended the Migration Act — adding a stricter “character test.” From then on, any foreign national who had spent 12 or more months in prison would automatically have his or her visa revoked. The legislation was retroactive and cumulative, meaning that a Kiwi who had been living here for 30 years could still face deportation and be sent to an Australian detention center — even for a decades-old suspended sentence.

“Some, given the option to return to New Zealand, choose to stay and appeal the decision. They’ve built a life in Australia, they’ve got wives and kids in Australia. They might own a home in Australia,” says Dr. Timothy Gassin, chairman of Oz Kiwi, an advocacy group for New Zealanders living in Australia.

“The fact that people can still move freely shows that yes, it’s a special arrangement that doesn’t exist with other countries,” said Dr. Gassin. “But as far as immigration goes, it’s been step after step backwards.”

[Read the New York Times article].

Comments are closed.