Up to 5000 Pacific Islanders will be offered New Zealand residence visas under a government policy aimed at addressing a pandemic shortfall.
Over 1700 places a year offered to Pacific Islanders were canned when COVID-19 started.
The scheme allows citizens from five Pacific nations to enter a random draw for a chance to get residency.
Prior to COVID-19, Pacific Islanders applied for the ballot under the Pacific Access Category and Samoan Quota.
The resumption of the ballots was signalled in a Cabinet paper during discussions on the one-off (2021) residence programme. They would restart ‘when reasonable and to rollover any forgone quota amounts due to the pause in these categories’.
Ballots are usually drawn in June and as this is the third year they have been suspended, 5250 places have not been used and will be offered again.
A total of 1100 places a year are available to Samoan citizens (3300 unused), 250 each to Tongan and Fiji citizens (1500) and 75 each to Kiribati and Tuvaluan citizens (450).
Half a million Pacific islanders have bid for a quota place since the system began in the 1960s.
Immigration lawyer Richard Small said the tap had been all but turned off for Pacific migration after changes to skilled worker criteria, and he called for it be resumed quickly.
“2021 Residence is being offered to 200,000 mostly non-Pacific work visa holders and their dependants. Yet there appears to be no public discussion over the suspending of 6000 Pacific quota resident places over three quota years nor any thought given to offering these to the long-suffering RSE workers, or those without visas.”
The New Zealand government expects to reopen ballot registrations for the Pacific Access Category and Samoan Quota later in the year, MBIE manager immigration (international & humanitarian) policy Sam Foley said in a statement.
It was consulting with relevant Pacific countries on the reopening “including whether to reallocate places that were not able to be used because of COVID-19”.
The categories were expected to be reviewed next year to assess whether they were meeting objectives and resulting in good outcomes for participants, Foley said.
“Work is also underway as part of the immigration rebalance to investigate opportunities for Pacific migrants in specific sectors.”