Lyon says he’s sighted a communication that says while children of foreigners working in the Cook Islands may visit their parents, they can only do so under the conditions of a bona fide tourist permit.
“This is an abhorrent policy that is discriminatory and unjust, going against the very strong family values that are a pillar of the Cook Islands society,” says Lyon
“Recent communications from the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration raise grave concerns over the development of policy and the attitudes of those responsible for it.”
The argument that has probably led to this apparent new policy is the cost of educating and providing a health service for these children, says Lyon.
“But let us not forget that it is these people that have become the mainstay of our economy. These people generate the income that supports these services, and without foreign labour we have no economy.”
Lyon says Rarotonga resident Te Tuhi Kelly raised a poignant point about discrimination in a recent column about the treatment of foreign workers.
“And this discriminatory treatment starts at the top.
“By introducing policy such as this ‘no children’ policy, the Cook Islands sends the signal that the people we want to come here are somehow second class citizens, denied such basic human rights as the unity of the family.
“There are other examples in the current policy, such as the bonding of a person to an employer, where the only option if the job does not work out is to leave, with no liability on the employer for providing the conditions and job promised.
Last year Permanent Residencies were suddenly suspended with no announcement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration or the prime minister who is responsible for those ministries.
CINews efforts to find out when and why PRs had been suspended and if or when the suspension would be lifted, met with no response. An immigration officer told one would-be PR she didn’t know why the suspension had been introduced, but said all those who had submitted applications would have their fees returned.
Lyon says the government suspending Permanent Residency indefinitely is another example of the lack of planning and foresight in immigration matters.
“The current system is barely adequate, but to suspend it sends a signal once again that the Cook Islands is turning its back on many of its taxpaying residents. The action will certainly turn away quality investments valued in the millions, by people that are already part of our society. Migration has always occurred. It always will.
“The biggest difference now is the rate at which it occurs, brought about by the affordable access to air travel. This will no doubt impact our society, as more people leave, and more come to replace them.
“If the Cook Islands of the present wish to have some influence on the Cook Islands of the future, we must have a discussion around long term immigration policy and rights of residents.”
Lyon says Cook Islanders are leaving their own country, and there is no quick fix for depopulation. “We are not returning in sufficient numbers to provide for any significant part of the labour requirements of the country.
“We must rely on migrants and we must expect that when we import labour, those people deserve a pathway to becoming naturalised. We can no longer treat every foreign worker as temporary, somehow expecting them to leave after they have built a home, a family and become part of the community in their new country.
“As a developed, fair and just society we must treat everyone fairly, no matter their nationality, religion, wealth or family status.”
Note: On Thursday the Office of the Prime Minister was asked to comment on this letter and related issues. Though CINews was assured a response was coming soon, none was supplied.