Desperate Kiwis exploit loophole in fair go fight
A KIWI campaigner wants up to 50,000 Gold Coasters to exploit a political loophole to ensure a better deal for "hardworking" New Zealanders forgotten during the coronavirus pandemic.
Community leader Vicky Rose says she has seen first-hand the pain Kiwis have endured during the crisis because they are ineligible for government support despite living and working full-time here for a number of years.
In a stunning move, she's called for Kiwis to join an Australian political party in a last-ditch attempt for New Zealand migrants to get a direct pathway to Australian citizenship.
Ms Rose migrated to the Gold Coast 12 years ago and is the co-ordinator of the Nerang Neighbourhood Centre. She fields daily phone calls from people in crisis including desperate New Zealanders on the brink of homelessness.
"Women who are being abused by their partners, new mums who have children born right here on the Gold Coast with a disability, cancer patients and Gold Coasters who were working one to three casual jobs before COVID but because they have been here for only nine years cannot get JobSeeker," she said.
"There's no support for these kiwis anyway, let alone in this global and unprecedented crisis, despite the fact they've lived and worked here for years, volunteered at their local sports clubs, paid taxes and call the Gold Coast home."
For example, to be eligible to join the Australian Labor Party, you must be a citizen and on the electoral roll. However, non-citizen Kiwis who are Special Category Visa (Subclass 444) holders can also qualify. This is the automatic visa given to any New Zealander upon arrival.
Most of the near 300,000 New Zealanders who migrated to Australia after February 26, 2001 do not, and will not qualify for social security benefits, despite paying taxes. Income tax from Kiwis in Australia was about $5 billion in 2015 alone. Other internationals living and working in Australia on permanent visas are eligible for supports in times of crisis.
Australians are not excluded from Social Security support in New Zealand and can access benefits after two years of living in New Zealand without any visa applications or paperwork.
In March, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked the Australian Government to relax the rules and extend their federal COVID supports to those Kiwis experiencing hardship during the pandemic as they were doing for their Australian residents in New Zealand.
Ms Rose said even before COVID she received up to 10 calls a week, every week, from Kiwis wanting to know how to become a permanent residents and/or Australian citizens. But because of the limited visa streams and strict criteria, one visa requiring annual earnings of at least $53,900 (about $1036 a week) each year for four consecutive years (exemptions may apply), a large chunk of New Zealanders will not meet the visa requirements to gain permanent residency and therefore will not have a pathway to Australian citizenship which would give them the rights and benefits enjoyed by their fellow taxpayers.
Currently the minimum wage in Australia is around $39,197 or $753.80 per week.
"Kiwis who migrate here (and anywhere else) don't do it to go on benefits. They come to the Gold Coast to work hard, build homes and make meaningful contributions to the community" Ms Rose said.
"We pay the same taxes as everybody else. We even pay the NDIS levy that we are cruelly not allowed to access. I've been constantly telling people for 10 years it's not a benefit argument, it's a reciprocity argument."
After lobbying for nearly a decade and getting nowhere, Ms Rose said she's changed tactics and joined the ALP as a non-citizen.
"I am getting active within the party here with the aim to attend both their state conference and national conferences and be fully present and heard at the conference(s) where the ALP decide on their party policies.
"I will be actively aiming to get a commitment from the ALP to a direct pathway to Australian citizenship for New Zealand migrants. This is something I believe is in their best interests as most Kiwis would likely vote Labor in Australia. There are 50,000 of us on the Gold Coast alone!"
"Any New Zealand migrant can join the ALP and support this. It's only $25 which is a small price to pay to have your say and be part of change."
"I encourage all passionate Kiwis to join up and be heard. We might not be able to vote, but we can definitely influence party policy."
To be eligible to vote and support Ms Rose to get to these ALP conferences, people must have been an ALP member for six months. August would be the cut off for next year's scheduled ballot.
"If the Australian Government's response to us during a global pandemic isn't enough for Kiwis to want to get active, then nothing will be."
WHY THERE IS NO DIRECT PATHWAY TO CITIZENSHIP FOR NEW ZEALANDERS
NEW Zealand citizens don't need to apply for a visa before coming to Australia, they are automatically given a temporary Special Category Visa subclass 444 (SCV 444).
But this visa does not offer a direct pathway to citizenship and while Kiwis can work and stay in Australia indefinitely, they don't have the same rights and benefits as other permanent residents and they can't vote.
In order to apply for citizenship, they must first apply to become permanent residents, except for those who arrived on a protected SCV visa before February 26, 2001.
Those migrants have a direct pathway to Australian citizenship and are considered "eligible New Zealand citizens" if they:
• Spent at least 12 months in the two years immediately before February 26, 2001 in Australia.
• Have a Centrelink certificate from before February 26, 2004 that shows you were living in Australia.
GOVERNMENT SAYS IT'S "GENEROUS" TO NEW ZEALANDERS
A spokesman from the Department of Home Affairs said Australia visa arrangements for New Zealand citizens are "more generous than those for citizens of any other country".
"The 1973 trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement has allowed Australian and New Zealand citizens to enter each other's country to visit, live, work and study, without the need to apply for a visa to enter the other country before travelling," he said.
Under this arrangement they are granted a Special Category Visa (subclass 444) subject to requirements.
"While this visa is not part of the permanent migration program, visa holders are able to remain in Australia indefinitely," he said.
The spokesman said "special bilateral relationship between Australia and New Zealand" introduced in 2017 streamlined pathway to Australian permanent residence".
But only for New Zealand citizens "who have been living in Australia for at least five years and shown a commitment and contribution to Australia".
If they are eligible for this permanent Skilled Independent Visa, they can then apply for Australian citizenship by conferral, "provided they meet the general eligibility requirements".
Originally published as Desperate Kiwis exploit loophole in fair go fight