Opinion: Push to prioritise immigration

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Every week I hear concerns from members of our community related to Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

Prominent concerns include lengthy timeframes for processing applications and major inconsistencies in advice received from INZ.

I have experienced instances of two people with almost identical circumstances and situations receiving drastically different sets of advice within very different timeframes.

I have been working hard by raising these concerns with INZ and am pleased to finally be getting somewhere, with INZ issuing an email address and phone number where urgent immigration issues affecting Queenstown businesses can be sent.

It is expected this will provide some relief for those businesses who have been waiting for action. However, the proof is in the pudding, so it is hoped prompt replies are given.

INZ has also informed me it is now prioritising Queenstown applications, resulting in application turn-arounds between 10 and 15 days. This is a significant improvement relative to the beginning of the year, and in other regions with turn-arounds between 30 and 40 days.

Judging by the 400 or so people who protested in the march I organised for the Sri Lankan family of Sam, Dinesha and their three boys who faced deportation late last year, it is clear that Queenstowners value all members of the community.

It’s great Dinesha has employment now as a catering manager. I am lobbying hard to ensure they can stay for good, and have lodged an application with the Associate Minister of Immigration, Kris Faafoi, to intervene.

We have people from almost 100 different cultural backgrounds present here in Queenstown, which contributes greatly to our diversity by bringing richness in thought, experience and values.

Many of those who have moved here from overseas, whether temporary or permanently, enable key industries such as tourism, retail, accommodation and food services to remain afloat. Tourism alone in Queenstown provided $637 million to our GDP in 2017, highlighting the value and necessity of immigration to Queenstown.

I will also continue to lobby for a specialist within INZ who specifically manages all immigration matters related to Queenstown.

The unique characteristics of Queenstown, such as high staff turn-overs and a large number of service industries, means a designated immigration specialist should have a greater awareness, understanding and appreciation of these characteristics when determining the right immigration outcomes for Queenstown.

It is often said that a squeaky wheel gets the oil. I will continue to make noise on issues affecting our region until the oil arrives.

Hamish Walker is Member of Parliament for Clutha-Southland