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Source: Human Rights Commission

A new package to help foreign nationals stuck in New Zealand due to Covid-19 is inadequate and needs to be supplemented with the emergency benefit, say Community Law Centres O Aotearoa (CLCA) and the Human Rights Commission (HRC).

The assistance programme began this week but the CLCA and the HRC are urging the Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni to provide temporary migrants with emergency benefits, as the welfare situation of at least 20,000 migrants becomes increasingly dire. 

“We are concerned that the recently announced $37.6m Assistance for Foreign Nationals Impacted by COVID-19 Programme is too restrictive, will be costly to administer and may be treated by the Minister as an alternative to granting adequate benefits to migrants experiencing hardship,” says CLCA Chief Executive, Sue Moroney.

“We predict that more than 30% of the fund will be spent on administrative costs to assess the complex and restrictive eligibility requirements, whereas MSD already has processes in place to process emergency benefit applications.”

Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Paul Hunt, has serious concerns for the foreign nationals who, through no fault of their own, are facing an increasingly dire situation in New Zealand. While he acknowledged the intent behind the new funding, he called on the Minister “to urgently extend the provision of emergency financial assistance, or other appropriate support measures, to foreign nationals who would not otherwise be eligible but who have no other means of support in the current situation.”

The 12 week $37.6m programme only allows people to have a maximum of four weeks support. That funding could provide seven weeks’ worth of the emergency benefit for 20,000 foreign nationals.

Both Community Law and the Human Rights Commission wrote to the Minister early in the COVID-19 crisis, urging her to grant emergency benefits to migrants. She has declined to do so. 

Moroney said “this is precisely the situation that this provision of the Social Security Act 2018 was designed for”.

“It allows the Minister to grant emergency benefits to people who would not usually be entitled during an epidemic. It makes no sense to design a complicated new Assistance Programme, rather than activating our epidemic response legislation in the way it was intended.”

Both organisations are extremely concerned at the current welfare crisis migrants are experiencing:

 “Temporarily extending the coverage of the emergency benefit would much more effectively ensure that the welfare and rights of temporary migrants are protected. In any event, coverage under this new scheme should at least match the emergency benefit, given the alarming situation many temporary migrants in New Zealand currently find themselves in.”  said the Chief Human Rights Commissioner.

 “The Government has a responsibility under international law to support the welfare of everyone in New Zealand during the COVID-19 emergency regardless of their nationality. This includes those who do not have independent avenues of support available to them and who are unable to return to their home countries,” explains Hunt. 

“Temporary migrants are in an impossibly difficult situation. Many have lost the jobs that their visa was reliant upon and have no income, but they aren’t free to work for a different employer if their visa is tied to a specific job. So they can’t work, but also can’t access benefits,” Moroney said. “Cash payments won’t be provided to applicants, so it seems they will have to set up individual payments for each piece of assistance a person needs.”

“The new Assistance Programme has not been designed to adequately meet the serious welfare needs of migrants impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. We urge the Minister to activate s64 of the Social Security Act and provide Emergency Benefits for temporary migrants.”

MIL OSI