Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway says political allies have raised questions over what was being proposed for the frozen parent visa category. - Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller
Families waiting for a government decision on whether overseas parents can join them say they feel like collateral damage as they wait for coalition parties to come to an agreement on immigration.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway denies there is a stalemate, but says he has been unable to reach consensus with coalition partners over the parent category, which was suspended in 2016.
The visa allowed parents to join an immigrant child who had become a resident or citizen, but came under fire over disputed claims about the burden on taxpayers.
Thousands of applicants are waiting for a policy announcement.
Suspicions over New Zealand First's involvement in the continued lack of an announcement were raised by the party's MP Mark Patterson, who said the category would not be re-opened while the party was in government.
He subsequently corrected himself. But New Zealand First leader Winston Peters made his position clear before the category was suspended, highlighting claims that children were not living up to their sponsorship commitments and abandoning them to the welfare system.
Mr Lees-Galloway said officials had carried out the reviews, but its political allies had raised questions over what he was proposing.
"Some of these things just take time," he said. "Sometimes you need to work through the details and keep the conversation going. I wouldn't say - it's not a stalemate. It's just that this is one of those things which is taking a bit of time, but we continue to work through the questions and the details and I'm very keen to get to a decision."
He said he understood people's frustrations, and it was unfortunate that the previous government stopped the decision-making process for parents while continuing to accept applications, which he says fuelled the frustration.
But he accepted his government had not changed that process and was also still taking expressions of interest, which carry a $490 fee.
He still hoped for a decision in the "very near future".
"It's been on the agenda for a while now," he said. "We have that information now before us that now, the job of the government as a whole now is to reach a consensus view across the various parties of government. I'm still working towards that and I'm very keen to get a decision so that people have certainty about the future of the parent category."
New Zealander Brian Bookman, whose mother-in-law turns 85 next week in England, said the government claims kindness and well-being, and should "unlock and unravel this constipated immigration category".
"The Winston factor has only been in the realm of speculation, and I've just been at a loss as to understand why there has been such delay," he said.
"So now we're getting, maybe we are getting some clarity that it is a Winston thing."
Simon Sebastian, who runs a business in Hamilton, said his widowed mother Mary Sebastian has to leave in two months' time after reaching the maximum 18-month period allowed under a grandparent visa, missing the birth of her second grandchild.
The 68-year-old will have to stay in India for another 18 months before she can return.
The terms of that visa meant that she had to leave New Zealand every six months, so he has had to take leave to accompany her on short breaks in Australia or Fiji, to stay eligible.
"I strongly believe I have the ability, I have the money to look after my Mum," he said. "I have a job. I have a business. And I'm really happy to look after my Mum.
"I don't want any single Panadol from the New Zealand government. What I'm feeling is they're not doing their job properly. If they were doing their job properly, people won't suffer like this."
Immigration lawyer Richard Howard said before the election Labour strongly suggested it would re-open the parent category, but he was not holding his breath after many false starts.
"Clearly, it's a consequence of coalition government and Labour is keen on reintroducing a parent policy of some type and its coalition partners are not. And at this stage there doesn't seem to be any way forward from it," he said.
"It's not a good situation when the government is continuing to take some $490 off prospective applicants who legitimately would hold an expectation that something will eventuate from that initial application."