Nicholas Sheppard

The cruelty of Jacinda Ardern’s immigration policy

Jacinda Ardern (Getty images)

‘Kindness and not being afraid to be kind,’ says New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, is the key to her leadership. Try telling that to the family of a 12-year-old from the Philippines, who has been banned from moving to New Zealand due to potential costs to the country’s healthcare system associated with her autism.

For half of her life, Arianna Alfonzo has lived away from her father, a construction industry worker in Auckland. Her mother, Gail Alfonzo, has stayed with Arianna overseas. Both parents have permanent residency status in New Zealand. A #LetAriannaStayNZ petition, which has got over 2,000 signatures, follows a nearly 35,000-signature petition submitted to Parliament last year. But still Ardern’s government refuses to back down.

Arianna was denied a visitor visa in 2018 after she was deemed not to have met the ‘acceptable standards of health’. She fell foul of an immigration policy that considers whether a person would cost the nation’s special education or healthcare systems more than $41,000 (£23,170) over five years.

‘I want this government to feel different,’ Ardern stated at the beginning of her administration

The Alfonzos sought a reprieve late last year from the associate immigration minister, citing cases in which families with autistic children have been initially denied a visa but later granted an exception. Her mother wants visa applicants to be assessed according to their contributions to society, skills, and family ties, not according to their potential costs to health and education services. The response: ‘I have carefully considered your representations. I advise I am not prepared to intervene in this case.’

‘Immigration matters,’ the Government noted last month when it replied to the petition, are ‘inherently discriminatory as individuals will need to be treated based on personal characteristic. While the Government values the contributions of disabled people to New Zealand society, the current immigration health settings are appropriate because they focus on public health impacts.

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