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Cook Islands entry act in need of updating: Immigration Secretary

Cook Islands Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Tepaeru Herrmann, acknowledges the current immigration legislative framework that governs immigration operations requires updating.

The Entry, Residence and Departure (ERD) Act 1971-72 is 40 years old and, Herrmann says: “It was written in a time when we were not the economy or society we are now.”

In an interview conducted immediately following an appearance before the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee regarding work permit costs for caregivers, Herrmann said the context in which the immigration service now needed to operate was significantly different to that when the ERD Act came into force in the 1970s.

“The ERD Act was introduced before the opening of the international airport, a time when we had few arrivals/departures, and an economy that was serviced predominantly by Cook Islanders.

“Today, immigration processes more than 150,000 visitors through our borders and at any given time, there are some 2000 valid entry and residence permits of non-Cook Islanders that need to be managed by Immigration.”

So the volume of movement of people Immigration needs to process is significantly greater, but also the economy is a lot more diversified and predominantly service based requiring sourcing of persons from beyond the Cook Islands.

“There’s an increasing need for a larger and more varied skills base, not all of which can be met, at least in the short term, by people currently living permanently in the Cook Islands,” said Herrmann.  

The role of immigration has evolved also from one of predominantly border control to increasingly, effectively managing the movement of persons from beyond the Cook Islands into the Cook Islands who will make a positive contribution to the economic and social development of the Cook Islands.

Despite the challenges for the Immigration Service of MFAI, Herrmann was optimistic. “We’re almost half way through a three-year comprehensive immigration strengthening programme.

“The first part, which was undertaken throughout 2016, focused on an immigration policy review - based on the ERD Act.

“We’re currently working on multiple institutional strengthening and capability development initiatives that include the installation of the electronic Border Management System (BMS) which is linked to the Customs Border Management System; attachments by senior immigration officials with New Zealand Immigration (NZI) focusing on working the BMS and immigration compliance; and from next week, secondments to MFAI by NZI officials.

When asked whether MFAI had funds for the strengthening programme, Herrmann responded: “Our core funding allows us to provide the core essentials of an immigration service and for the current strengthening programme, we’ve partnered with the Pacific Immigration Directors Conference and the New Zealand government for supplementary assistance.”

On the grilling from the Public Accounts Committee Herrmann said: “I think this is a genuine query from the public and the committee is duty bound to inquire.

“I welcome the questions of the committee as it’s healthy for ensuring government services, including immigration, are serving the needs of our society.”.

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