Friday, March 10, 2006

Editorial: Migration rules must be followed

At a first glance, it is easy to view the case of Gavin Penfold and his family as one of bureaucracy gone mad. Why would the Department of Labour send back to South Africa a man who has worked in his chosen occupation since arriving here in December 2004, and who has one of his two young children at school in Auckland? A closer examination suggests, however, that the department's approach is valid, given the need to protect the integrity and intent of this country's immigration regime.

Mr Penfold's work permit has been revoked and a residency application rejected, giving him and his family the status of overstayers, because he failed to notify the Department of Labour of a job change. Six weeks after arriving in Whangarei to take up a job at a motor vehicle dealership, he left to work for an Auckland dealership. The department was only told of the change about 10 months after the Penfolds moved to Auckland. That, it said, was too late for its liking.

The Penfolds have now been advised that it would be better for them to return to South Africa and then reapply to enter New Zealand. They fear every knock at their door will signal an enforced end to their stay here. Theirs is an unfortunate situation. But it is one that would have been avoided had they taken the terms of entry to this country with appropriate seriousness.

Mr Penfold's work permit had two important stipulations. One, completely standard, was that any variation, such as a change of job, had to be notified to the department immediately. The other, more specific, was that he was allowed to work only as a sales consultant at the Whangarei dealership. For someone keen to forge a new life here, these conditions should have been imprinted on the mind. They are too important to ignore or to be subject to a bout of forgetfulness. As is the department's clear warning that employees from overseas who break any entry conditions may be required to leave the country immediately.

The stipulations are quite reasonable. It was a considerable point in Mr Penfold's favour that he was to live in Whangarei, first because of a shortage of workers qualified to do his job there. Additionally, immigration officials are keen for migrants to settle in provincial areas, thereby taking some of the infrastructure burden off Auckland, in particular. It is unrealistic to expect most of them to stay in the provinces in the long term; they will shift to the bigger cities both for work opportunities and to be close to others from their country of birth. But Mr Penfold's six weeks in Whangarei made a mockery of the permit. If unaddressed, it would hardly encourage other provincial employers to offer work to prospective migrants.

There is also good reason for the department's demand to be advised of any change of job. Immigration officials need to keep tabs on people on work permits. If they cannot, overstaying becomes a much easier proposition. That, obviously, is not a prospect to be encouraged.

Understandably, the Penfold family's plight has attracted sympathy. But so, too, and to a greater extent, should the predicament of immigrants with a far higher level of skill who have failed to find a job commensurate with their talent and educational qualifications. The tales of doctors from the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere driving taxis are still not the stuff of fiction. If immigration policy is failing, it is there.

In terms of the Penfolds, the department's advice is sound. They should go back to South Africa and, if they still wish to build a new life here, reapply to return. And, this time, treat the conditions under which they are granted entry with far more gravity.

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