Immigration ‘inconsistent’ in visas for Afghans resettling in New Zealand – law group

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About a third of Afghans allowed to resettle here to escape the Taliban do not meet strict criteria imposed by Cabinet.

An RNZAF C130 landed in Kabul Afghanistan today and safely evacuated a number of New Zealanders and Australians.

Air force help evacuate people in Kabul, Afghanistan, in August. Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Defence Force

Just under 1300 have got visas urgently amid the heightened danger.

Of those, 435 are outside the criteria the government imposed for a brief evacuation window in August, which prioritised people who had helped New Zealand agencies (or their partner or children).

Immigration said those outside the criteria were mostly the partners or dependents of New Zealand citizens.

But Community Law Aotearoa said it was confusing how Immigration was deciding which people were allowed in.

Some applicants with family links to people who directly helped the deployment were being turned down, while others without family links were getting visas, said its chief executive Sue Moroney.

It was good they were getting in, but it should be even-handed, she said.

“No-one wants to be in a position of saying, ‘That person should not be here’,” said Moroney.

“Because we all understand that people are facing varying degrees of risk.

“But we have argued that it has been inconsistent. We’ve heard from the Afghan community that it has been inconsistent.”

A Community Law branch in Waikato has been arguing in the High Court this week for clearer – and it says “fairer” – visa rules, and a restart to issuing residence visas to Afghans with family links to refugees here.

Lawyers for the Crown told the High Court only a person who could show they needed to come to New Zealand specifically – and nowhere else in the world would do – would get a critical purpose visitor’s visa (CPVV).

Moroney questioned how someone without a family already here would qualify, adding there was not enough transparency to know if Immigration was acting lawfully.

Of the 435, 330 people got a CPVV, while 105 were granted a visa by the associate minister of immigration.

An RNZAF C130 landed in Kabul Afghanistan today and safely evacuated a number of New Zealanders and Australians.

Evacuations on a RNZAF C130 from Kabul, Afghanistan in August. Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Defence Force

Community Law Waikato said all 70 of its clients who applied on humanitarian grounds failed to get a CPVV, even though Immigration had encouraged them to apply for this visa.

The problems have persisted since the emergency unfolded in early August.

“We have found it very hard to get clear accurate information” about applying for a CPVV, the centre told Immigration in August.

“The lives of our clients, for some time precarious, now truly hang in the balance while they remain in Afghanistan, waiting for their applications to be processed.”

A further 856 Afghans who did meet the Cabinet criteria have got visas – they had worked for Defence, Foreign Affairs or New Zealand Police in Afghanistan, Immigration said.

So far about 90 have arrived here. A New Zealand envoy in the region is helping arrange travel for others.

Afghan nationals can still ask for a border exception to travel here under a CPVV, or apply under normal criteria for other visas.

“We understand the uncertainty that people in Afghanistan are facing, and empathise with the difficult situations that many individuals find themselves in,” said border and visa operations acting general manager Jock Gilray.

Immigration was still accepting and processing relationship-based applications from partners and dependent children of New Zealand citizens and residents, he said.

Immigration lawyer Kamil Lakshman said it was “a curly one” now that it was tough getting out of Afghanistan.

The government appeared to have been “generous” in setting up a new permanent visa for the Afghans being resettled under the critical purpose visas, which were only temporary, she said.

People have until December 2022 to apply under the Afghan Emergency Resettlement Visa Category.

Applicants must be an Afghan citizen, have been in Afghanistan on 15 August, 2021, and be in New Zealand when they submit their application.

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