30 August 2006

New Zealand relaxes health requirement for Zimbabwean residency seekers

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Zimbabwean nationals living in New Zealand applying for the Special Zimbabwe Residence Policy will be exempt from the requirement to be of an acceptable standard of health.

Many Zimbabweans fled their home country to escape the Mugabe regime and found their way to New Zealand and Australia, prompting the New Zealand Government to introduce the Special Zimbabwe Residence Policy that allows those Zimbabweans who entered the country on or before 23 September 2004 to gain permanent residency if they do not meet the requirements for approval under any other residence policy.

Cabinet is concerned however that a number of potential residents from Zimbabwe are not coming forward because of uncertainty around their HIV status following a policy change to require mandatory HIV screening before approving residence applications.

As a result the Government has announced that applicants would be offered residency regardless of their health status if they apply by next February 28 and meet other standard requirements, such as character and citizenship.

"Under successive governments, New Zealand has been at the forefront of adopting a proactive and pragmatic approach to the management of HIV/AIDS," Said Health Minister Pete Hodgson.

"We are now faced with a situation where people may be putting their health, and the health of others, at risk because of a government policy - we cannot accept that.

"We are doing this because it's the right thing to do to protect the health of New Zealanders and of those Zimbabweans seeking to become New Zealanders. When people know about their HIV status, we can be much more successful at containing the spread of the virus."

A closing date of February 28, 2007 for applications under the Special Residence Policy (SRP), has been set, and temporary permits would be extended to provide time for residence applications to be decided.

Immigration Minister David Cunliffe said the decision to accept Zimbabweans regardless of health was made for both public health and humanitarian reasons.

He said:"About 800 people eligible for the SRP have still not applied, and there is anecdotal information that for some of them fear of finding out they have HIV through the health screening immigration policy requires, and then having their applications rejected, is the reason they have not come forward. We have applications on hand for the Special Residence Policy where people have declared they have HIV."

Mr Cunliffe said the decision was made for both public health and humanitarian reasons.

"This is an exceptional case, made for a group of people who might be unable to go home, and who without this decision couldn't stay here lawfully. Without the certainty of the Government decision, people could have gone underground, with negative consequences for them and for New Zealand."

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