Saturday, July 04, 2009

Immigrant victims

An article from the Christchurch Press describes how the recession is affecting immigrants to New Zealand who are here on Work Permits/Visas. Because they have neither permanent residence nor citizenship, they’re not eligible for unemployment benefits. So, if their jobs end, they have to rely on their savings to get by and, if that runs out they have to rely on charity. That, or leave the country.

These immigrants can look for a new job and if they manage to find one they can apply for a variation in the conditions for their Permit/Visa to allow them to work for the new employer. However, this can take as long as 72 days—how many employers will be willing to wait that long and put up with that hassle?

There’s no specific timeframe for redundant immigrants to find a new job, but migrants on short-term visas have been told they had three weeks to find a new job or leave the country. Given the long processing times at Immigration, migrants are being put into an impossible situation.

I faced something similar many years ago when the company I was working for closed down. For a time after that I was in New Zealand on a Visitor Permit, which meant no working. But then I qualified for permanent residence and was successful, so I was free to find a job working for anyone. Now, of course, I’m a citizen and have the same freedoms as NZ-born citizens.

I feel for these migrants and the situation they find themselves in. Many of them were brought in on the Skilled Migrant programme to fill critical skills shortages in New Zealand. But all migrants in New Zealand on work permits/visas are here only because the Immigration Service was satisfied that no New Zealander could do or was available to do the job they were hired to do. It’s tempting in bad economic times to scapegoat immigrants, to demand they be removed. But these migrants are demonstrably hard working, skilled people who are an asset for New Zealand.

These newly jobless skilled migrants need faster service from the Immigration Service. They’ve made their homes in New Zealand and have built lives here. But their lives are in limbo and their wellbeing is in jeopardy not just from the bad economy, but also because of the slow bureaucracy.

I survived the legal limbo I found myself in. I hope these migrants can, too.

No comments: