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New Zealand: Annual Refugee Quota Increased

(June 15, 2016) On June 13, 2016, the New Zealand government announced that it will increase the country’s annual refugee quota from 750 to 1,000 places from the start of the 2018 fiscal year, which begins April 1, 2018.  (Press Release, Michael Woodhouse, Govt Announces Increase to Refugee Quota (June 13, 2016), BEEHIVE.GOVT.NZ.)  The refugee quota has remained at 750 per year for nearly 30 years.  New Zealand is ranked 87th in the world for total refugee resettlement per capita.  (Nicholas Jones, Plea to Increase Refugee Numbers, NZ HERALD (June 4, 2015).)

The government estimates that the increase in the annual quota will cost an additional NZ$25 million per year (about US$17.5 million).  Currently, NZ$75 million of government funding is provided for the 750-person quota.  (Govt Announces Increase to Refugee Quota, supra.)

The quota announcement also included a decision to pilot a program, starting in the 2017-2018 fiscal year, that would allow community groups to sponsor refugees.  Details about the pilot will be released next year.  (Id.)

In addition to refugee quota places, there are also currently 300 places available each year for family reunification, and an additional 125 to 175 asylum seekers have their claims approved each year.  (Id.; Refugee and Protection Unit, IMMIGRATION NEW ZEALAND (INZ) & Asylum Seekers, INZ (both last visited June 14, 2016).)

Response to Syrian Refugee Crisis

In September 2015, the government committed to resettling 750 Syrian refugees over two and a half fiscal years.  This includes dedicating 150 places of the existing 2015-16 annual quota, as well as instituting a 600-place special emergency intake in addition to the quota (100 in 2015-2016 and 500 over 2016-2017 and 2017-2018, making the effective quota 1,000 for those two years).  (Press Release, Michael Woodhouse, New Zealand to Take 750 More Syrian Refugees (Sept. 7, 2015), BEEHIVE.GOVT.NZ.)

Reactions to the Increase

A number of groups and members of the public have been calling on the government to increase the refugee quota, particularly in light of the current crisis involving Syrian refugees.  Campaigners argue that the quota should be doubled to 1,500 per year, which Immigration New Zealand has indicated the country could handle.  A petition to double the quota, containing 20,000 signatures, was presented to Parliament in March 2016.  (Stacey Kirk, New Zealand Refugee Quota Upped to 1000 – ‘Stinks of a Government that Doesn’t Care’, Say Advocates, STUFF.CO.NZ (June 13, 2016.)

The chief executive of the advocacy group New Zealand Amnesty International stated that the government’s quota decision “is a shameful and inhumane response and a stain on our country’s reputation as a good global citizen.”  (Id.)   The leader of the main opposition party, the Labour Party, said that the decision was “hugely disappointing” and that the new number is “less than the bare minimum.”  He said that the Labour Party’s policy is to double the quota over two or three years.  (Id.)

The Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, told reporters that the government had considered doubling the quota but “decided against it because of the cost and concerns about resettlement.”  (Govt Considered Doubling Refugee Quota Before Smaller Increase, NEWSTALK ZB (June 14, 2016).)

New Zealand’s Refugee Policy

New Zealand is one of about 26 countries that participate in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regular resettlement program.  The UNHCR assesses and identifies refugees, who are then submitted to be considered for resettlement in New Zealand.  Immigration New Zealand, the government agency in charge of refugee policies and procedures, processes and decides cases based on certain factors.  (New Zealand Refugee Quota Programme, INZ (last visited June 14, 2016).)  Part 5 of the Immigration Act 2009 provides the statutory basis for New Zealand’s refugee and protection programs.  (Immigration Act 2009, New Zealand Legislation website; Immigration (Refugee and Protection Status Processing) Regulations 2010, New Zealand Legislation website.)

The government makes decisions on the refugee quota program in three-year cycles.  The composition of the refugee quota “is agreed to annually by the Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.”  (Id.; see also Refugee Quota Programme 2013/14 to 2015/16, INZ (2013).)

Immigration New Zealand works with other government agencies and with nongovernmental organizations, particularly the New Zealand Red Cross, as well as the refugee community, to implement a Refugee Resettlement Strategy that involves five core goals, each with a success measure.  (Refugee Resettlement Strategy, INZ (last visited June 13, 2016); Refugee Resettlement: New Zealand Resettlement Strategy, INZ (2013).)

On arrival in New Zealand, refugees stay at a resettlement center for six weeks.  (Refugees Coming to New Zealand, NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT (last updated Apr. 20, 2016).)  The government also provides health care, education, language classes, and job-seeking support.  (Supporting Refugees and Asylum Seekers, INZ (last visited June 14, 2016).)