In a media statement outlining a recent review of the Immigration Act, Samuela said the proposed legislation should support the success of the Cook Islands through supporting investment and business development, and access to skilled and needed workers.
“Immigration should support the safety of the Cook Islands through legislation that helps prevent the travel, entry and stay of non-Cook Islanders that are not of good character, with criminal convictions or who are not of an acceptable standard of health.
“It should support the security of the Cook Islands by ensuring there are provisions to remove or deport non-Cook Islanders who do not abide by Cook Islands law, or who are considered a threat or risk to security.”
She said the aim of the new legislation and regulations, which have yet to be considered by Cabinet or passed into law, is that they be “fair, fit-for-purpose and future-proofed.”
Cook Islands Immigration hired a consultant to assist with the Immigration Act review at the beginning of this year.
“The consultant developed an initial set of proposals for the new legislation and then met with a range of stakeholders to discuss them,” Samuela said.
A detailed set of proposals for the new legislation were released for consideration by stakeholders in May. Documents were sent to a wide range of people and organisations including government agencies, the House of Ariki, the Chamber of Commerce, employee representatives, a number of business owners and lawyers, and airline, cruise ship and tourism representatives.
Along with circulating the documents and inviting feedback. Cook Islands Immigration and the consultant met with a range of stakeholders face-to-face,” Samuela said.
“The feedback from the consultation process was used to revise the proposals for the legislation and to develop proposals for the regulations.”
Samuela said work to develop a new Immigration Act had approved by the Cook Islands Cabinet last year.
“This is because the Entry, Residence and Departure Act 1971-72 (the ERD Act) is not fit for purpose. It does not provide legislative foundation needed to effectively manage the travel, entry, stay and departure of non-Cook Islanders to the Cook Islands.
“Since the ERD Act was enacted, there have been major changes in the Cook Islands and in the international environment.
“In the Cook Islands, tourist numbers jumped from around 73,000 visitors in the year 2000 to around160,000 visitors in 2016.
“The jump in visitors has led to growth in the tourism sector, construction sector and other sectors. For example, building approvals jumped from approximately 8,000 in 2012 to 22,000 in 2016.
“This growth, combined with decreasing rates of unemployment, has created a shortage of workers in a number of sectors.
“In the international environment, people are becoming increasingly mobile. In 1971, the estimated number of air travellers was 332 million. In 2000, it was around 1.7 billion, jumping to 3.8 billion air travellers in 2016.
“The increased movement of people requires all countries to think carefully about how they attract and facilitate the people they want and need.
“It also requires all countries to ensure that they manage people risks, and maintain the integrity of their borders and immigration systems.”
- Release/Cameron Scott