29 Mar 2022
It’s become commonplace to read news stories about people with disabilities who have been denied New Zealand residency and face deportation.
One such story is Juliana Carvalho, who is battling for residency after seven years of living in New Zealand. Juliana’s disability has not stopped her from studying and working full time while campaigning for changes to the New Zealand immigration policy.
But despite her 2020 petition receiving nearly 40,000 signatures, the Government recently announced it will not be recommending a review of the health criteria.
In contrast, in 2018 Canada reviewed its “medical inadmissibility” rules for residency temporarily to only affect very few applicants. After the success of the pilot programme, the law change became permanent last year.
It is time for the New Zealand government to follow suit and revisit the acceptable standards of health criteria in our immigration policy.
Immigration New Zealand (INZ) currently requires disabled applicants to show “acceptable standards of health” for residency and temporary visas. This is claimed to ensure that the applicant is unlikely to be a burden on New Zealand’s health or special education services. This approach may not appear discriminatory, but it is.
Applicants with conditions requiring health services of over $41,000 within a five-year period are generally declined unless a waiver is granted. INZ and the Ministry of Health are currently reviewing the $41,000 threshold, but this is not enough.
The legal costs and lengthy process of applying for a waiver or appealing a waiver decision leave applicants in a visa limbo and create further inequality and access to justice issues.
These barriers are even greater for disabled applicants who face other socio-economic barriers – for example, a disabled person applying for a visa under the category of victims of family violence.
An immigration policy that prioritises the potential cost of an applicant’s disability to the health system over everything else adopts the outdated and degrading medical model of disability.
This model treats disabled individuals as defective and burdensome to society. It also fails to consider the contributions – economic, social, cultural – made by people with disabilities. And it ignores the value of disabled people to their whānau, communities, and the wider society.
The need to make sure the Government can continue to provide free health care is often cited as the reason for the policy. But this contrasts with the fact that disabled applicants can still have visas declined even if they have the means to pay for private care.
In many instances, the disabled applicant or their guardians have been working in New Zealand and paying taxes. These taxes help support the operation of the public health system, which should be available to them as taxpayers.
New Zealand has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which prohibits disability discrimination and calls for freedom of movement for disabled persons.
In some cases, the person facing deportation is a disabled child whose whānau have built a life in NZ. Deporting a disabled child is almost unimaginably disruptive to all aspects of their family and social life, education, and overall well-being.
Prioritising a child’s well-being is an obligation for NZ under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act only allows limiting the right to non-discrimination if it is reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
The current health-based limitations are arguably unreasonable and contrary to the values of New Zealand as a free and democratic society.
It is time for the Government to heed the calls for change and adopt a “strength-based approach” in setting immigration policies for people with disabilities. This was recommended in the 2021 Report of the Education and Workforce Committee on Carvalho’s petition.
This shift will help ensure that NZ’s immigration policy is in line with its obligations towards disabled persons and recognises their value and contributions to society.
At a time of recovery from a pandemic that has had a much higher impact on disabled people, and with the promise of building back better together, the fair and equal treatment of disabled persons is more important than ever.
This article was first published in stuff.co.nz. Read the original article on Stuff.