Cabinet approve Immigration Policy changes

Principal Immigration Officer - Chere Arthur

At their meeting this week, Cabinet approved the Immigration Policy changes considered by the National Labour Advisory Board (NLAB) in September.

The policy changes are as follows:

1. Enable additional employment
2. Waiver any fees for 12 months on conditions for additional employment
3. Enable a new one-year retiree visa and permit
4. Enable applications for a one year International and Government visa and permit at a cost of $320 per application
5. No fees on any visitor class visa or permit extension that is 62 days or less
6. Enable the continuation of a renewal fee of $60 per annum for a Resident Spouse visa and permit
7. Remove mandatory breaks and limitations on permit renewals from the criteria
8. Regulatory amendment to enable Australian passport holders a 90-day visitor visa and permit on arrival

These policy changes were developed in response to feedback from the private sector on the Immigration Regulations 2023. The 12-month concession timeframe approved by Cabinet, to take effect from date of Cabinet approval, will provide a monitoring and evaluation mechanism for reporting to Cabinet at 6- and 12-month intervals on progress and to inform what regulatory amendments, if any, will follow.

In addition to the policy changes, the shift to appointment only immigration services received Cabinet support with a view to enhancing customer service experience and to assist with the transition management phase presently underway.

Since endorsement by NLAB of the policy changes in September 2023, and with Ministerial approval, to Immigration Cook Islands have been applying these policy concessions on a case-by-case basis. The data presented to the Cabinet this week, covering the period September to date, was an interim indication of the appropriateness of the policy changes proposed.

In the 4-month period since, 44 requests to extend a 31-day visit for an average of 5 additional days were processed with no fee applied. 18 of those requests were visitors from Australia, with other requests being visitors from Canada, USA, and the UK.

On average, international visitors were extending their visit up to 65 days and New Zealanders a 100 day stay. In the 4-month period, 11 requests for long-term visitor stay, being a further 6 months, were processed. With the introduction of a new one-year retiree visa and permit, Immigration Cook Islands expects that the number of Long-Term Visitor applications may reduce.

Important to note that the Long-Term Visitor visa and permit was introduced as an MFAI COVID-19 concession ahead of the Immigration Regulations being approved by Cabinet in 2023. Those concessions were a response to the Private Sector Taskforce proposal for a long-term visitor stay, to stimulate economic recovery.

In August 2023, MFEM undertook a review of the prescribed fees in the 2023 Regulations and determined the fees were appropriate, though accommodation of an annual fee approach to support the economic recovery endeavour was suitable. This has been addressed in the policy change approved by Cabinet this week by the inclusion of a one-year Government and International worker visa and permit at $320 per year.

The data presented to Cabinet this week, covering processing since September, indicated the 3-year fee payment option was still preferred. Of the 740 new and renewed applications processed since September, 491 or 66% chose to pay upfront the 3-year fee.

In their considerations this week, the Cabinet added an additional policy change – being the continuation of the $60 renewal fee for the Resident Spouse visa and permit.

MFAI again express regret for the frustration and confusion these delays may have caused and encourage stakeholders to engage with the Ministry directly in relation to the policy changes and how they could be beneficial. “We are grateful for the engagements with the National Labour Advisory Board, including the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce and the Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council and our employer groups for their assistance with refining the policy development and continued patience while we work through this transition phase,” said Principal Immigration Officer Chere Arthur.

The policy will be added to the suite of Immigration policies on the Ministry website along with additional information, FAQs, and relevant forms next week.

“Cabinet’s support for the proposed policy changes is a welcome outcome for the Ministry as we continue to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to ensure the Ministry upholds mandated immigration responsibilities whilst supporting an enabling business environment aligned with the national economic recovery effort which requires policy cohesion beyond immigration policy considerations,” said MFAI Secretary Tepaeru Herrmann.

All enquiries related to travel and entry requirements for the Cook Islands, visitor extensions and the immigration policy changes, please email [email protected]

For all enquiries regarding this media release, please email [email protected]