Residence visas being offered to up to 5000 Pasifika after Covid-19 hiatus

By RNZ.co.nz

Up to 5000 Pasifika will be offered residence visas under a government policy aimed at addressing a pandemic shortfall.

New Immigration Minister Michael Wood. Photo:

Over 1700 places a year offered to Pacific Islanders were canned when Covid-19 started.

The scheme allows citizens from five Pacific nations to enter a random draw for a chance to get residence.

Until Covid-19, they applied for the ballot each April under the Pacific Access Category and Samoan Quota.

The resumption of the ballots was signalled in a Cabinet paper during discussions on the one-off (2021) residence programme. They would restart ‘when reasonable and to rollover any forgone quota amounts due to the pause in these categories’.

Ballots are usually drawn in June and as this is the third year they have been suspended, 5250 places have not been used and will be offered again.

A total of 1100 places a year are available to Samoan citizens (3300 unused), 250 each to Tongan and Fiji citizens (1500) and 75 each to Kiribati and Tuvaluan citizens (450).

Half a million Pacific islanders have bid for a quota place since it began in the 1960s.

Immigration lawyer Richard Small said the tap had been all but turned off for Pacific migration after changes to skilled worker criteria, and he called for it be resumed quickly.

Immigration lawyer Richard Small.

Richard Small Photo: SUPPLIED

“2021 Residence is being offered to 200,000 mostly non-Pacific work visa holders and their dependants. Yet there appears to be no public discussion over the suspending of 6000 Pacific quota resident places over three quota years nor any thought given to offering these to the long-suffering RSE workers, or those without visas.”

The government expects to reopen ballot registrations for the Pacific Access Category and Samoan Quota later in the year, MBIE manager immigration (international & humanitarian) policy Sam Foley said in a statement.

It was consulting with relevant Pacific countries on the reopening “including whether to reallocate places that were not able to be used because of Covid-19”.

The categories were expected to be reviewed next year to assess whether they were meeting objectives and resulting in good outcomes for participants, Foley said.

“Work is also underway as part of the immigration rebalance to investigate opportunities for Pacific migrants in specific sectors.”

Pacific migration policy

The new Australian government is looking at creating a pathway to residence for people from the Pacific, similar to New Zealand’s quota ballot but possibly also including Melanesian countries such as Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.

That move, announced less than a fortnight ago, has been linked to Australia’s attempts to deepen its relationships in the Pacific and counter China’s developing influence in the region.

But New Zealand’s Pacific migration review seems to have stalled under Covid-19. A two-year work programme agreed in 2019 was to include Pacific temporary, RSE (seasonal workers) and residence settings.

Immigration New Zealand and the new immigration minister Michael Wood have been approached for comment. The immigration portfolio passed to Wood this week and he is currently working overseas.

Small said an initial push to include migration in the government’s 2017 ‘Pacific reset’ seemed to have disappeared but migration could be critical to New Zealand’s continued efforts at fostering relations in the Pacific.

“Migration is our ace card,” he said. “But it’s one that for whatever reason government does not want to play. Because what immigration represents is not just immigration, it’s a continued link between families. It’s also a huge source of aid, and those communities want links with their loved ones.”

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