Information for New Zealanders living in Australia

New Zealanders hit by tighter rules for immigrants

19 August 2016
Villawood (Photo: AFP)
Villawood (Photo: AFP)


20 August 2016

Robert Milliken - The Economist

“No two nations could be closer,” insists Malcolm Turnbull, Australia's prime minister, of his country's ties with New Zealand. Gary Howes is not so sure. Like many young New Zealanders, he moved to Australia with his family when he was a child. “Australia is my home,” he says. But after a brush with the law Mr Howes, now 25 years old, was locked in an immigration detention centre and then deported to New Zealand, a country he says he barely knows.

Immigration detention centres in Australia now hold almost 200 Kiwis, more than any other nationality (Australia also keeps some would-be immigrants in camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru). About 650,000 New Zealanders live in Australia, ten times the number of Australians in New Zealand. They are entitled to “special category” visas, which allow them to live and work in Australia without restriction. But they are not citizens, and so are subject to the tighter rules on the conduct of immigrants introduced by Tony Abbott, Mr Turnbull's predecessor. In particular, any foreigners who are jailed for a year or more lose their visas automatically.

Because their visas are otherwise so accommodating, many Kiwis do not bother taking Australian citizenship even after many years' residence. So the new policy has scooped up relatively more New Zealanders than other nationalities. Mr Howes served a two-year prison term for theft. He returned for a shorter stint after breaking parole. While in prison, he received an official letter saying his visa had been cancelled and he would be expelled.

Peter Dutton, Australia's immigration minister, will not say how many New Zealanders Australia has deported since the law changed. Oz Kiwi, an advocacy group, thinks it is about 600. Joanne Cox of Oz Kiwi accuses Australia of applying the law retrospectively, even to some who had done prison time before the change: “They were juvenile offenders, now grandparents. Hardly the dregs of society.”

Amid such outcry, Mr Turnbull six months ago announced a plan to drop visas for some New Zealanders and allow them permanent residence. Eligible Kiwis must have lived in Australia for five years and earn at least A$53,900 (about $41,000) a year. Mr Turnbull called it a “streamlined pathway to Australian citizenship”. But that does nothing to stop the deportations of less well-paid New Zealanders.

Read The Economist article.