Welfare Rights Review

New pathway to residence for New Zealand citizens welcome but more support needed for the most vulnerable

In February this year, the Government announced a new pathway to Australian permanent residence for New Zealand citizens already living in Australia, to be available from 1 July 2017.

Currently New Zealand citizens are eligible to live and work in Australia.  They do so on a subclass 444 (special category) visa.  Although permitting them to live and work indefinitely in Australia, this is technically a temporary visa and as such does not generally entitle them to income support through the social security system.

Our members regularly advise and assist New Zealanders in financial hardship who have lived in Australia for long periods of time and are in financial hardship because, for example, they have lost their job as a result of ill health or injury.  Some do not realise they hold a special category visa, as it is generally automatically issued at passport control when they entered Australia.  Especially for those who entered after February 2001, there are often very limited options forcing many to face the difficult choice of whether to return to New Zealand, even if they have made their life here for a decade or more.

In February this year, the government announced a new pathway to Australian residence for New Zealanders who are already living in Australia at the date of announcement on 19 February 2016, but arrived after February 2001.  As well as meeting other standard health, character and security checks, they must have lived and worked in Australia for at least 5 years and earned at least the “Temporary Skilled Migration Income Threshold” (TSMIT) for each year (currently close to $54,000 per year).  There is more information about this proposal here.

The National Welfare Rights Network welcomes this measure.  It will help some New Zealanders obtain permanent residence, which provides access to income support if they fall into hardship, as well as improving access in areas such as education for their children.  The Department of Immigration and Border Control anticipates up to about half of New Zealanders living in Australia who have resided in Australia for 5 years since February 2001 will be eligible.

However, this will still not help many of the vulnerable clients we see.  It is inequitable for women who were partnered to a New Zealand citizen who meets these requirements, but who do not themselves do so because they have not earned the TSMIT for each year because they were raising their children.  These women should have access to residence via their former partner’s qualification.

We have also long campaigned for access to the Special Benefit payment to be open to some New Zealand citizens in limited circumstances, such as children who emigrated with their parents and have no real ties to New Zealand and for those escaping domestic violence.  For more detail see our 2016 Federal Budget submission here.