Proposed new timeframes and guidelines aimed to get applications processed in a “timely manner” are contained in a document setting out comprehensive proposed changes to immigration legislation.
Principal Immigration Officer Kairangi Samuela says the proposed new rules will remove uncertainty surrounding the permanent residence application process.
Under the proposals, those applying for permanent residency will have to demonstrate that they are proficient in the English language and that they have Cook Islands Maori language “ability”.
“The language requirements will support their good settlement and should have been developed in the time they have already spent in the Cook Islands,” says Samuela
The proposed changes recognise the importance of Cook Islands culture and community by requiring applicants to undertake the Kia Orana Values programme, along with demonstrating their involvement in community service.
“Undertaking community service is the mechanism by which applicants can demonstrate that they have made a commitment to the Cook Islands and have learned about culture and community,” says Samuela.
“Through this, they should be able to satisfy the requirement to gain support for their application from within the community.
“Their community supporters should be able to attest to the applicant’s ability to be a contributing member of the community – and this matter was most prominent and important to people engaged in the consultation process for the new legislation.
Applicants for permanent residency will be able to choose the people they ask to support them in their application - within some boundaries, says Samuela.
“They must include at least one aronga mana from their vaka (or village) or primary residence and the other supporters must not be immediate family members or business associates.
“The support of the community is an important indication of a non-Cook Islander’s ability to settle in the Cook Islands.”
Under the proposed legislation the requirement to have made skills, expertise or financial investment in this country is not considered necessary, as this should have been demonstrated through the applicant’s ability to have been lawfully in the Cook Islands, on a permit, for the five or 10 year timeframe they must now meet, the document says.
Samuela says changes to the PR application process will enable non-Cook Islanders to apply for permanent residency if they have made a commitment to Cook Islands culture and community and when there are places available.
The number of permanent residence certificates that can be granted and held at any one time will be maintained at the present 650.
A one-off “transitional” processing of applications before the proposed legislation is introduced, will provide an opportunity for the non-Cook Islanders who have made a long-term commitment to the Cook Islands, its culture and community, to apply for permanent residence, says Samuela.
“Based on the proposed criteria for permanent residence, most of these non-Cook Islanders will have had to have lived in the Cook Islands for an extended period of time and will also need to have participated in community service during that time.
“After that, when there are places available within the 650 number, the onus will be on potential applicants to make an application and provide evidence that they meet the application criteria.”
A ranking process will be used where there are more applicants that may meet the criteria than places available.
The ranking process will give priority to New Zealanders, and the second mechanism for ranking will be the length of time an applicant has lived in the Cook Islands.
“Providing a certain process to apply for permanent residence and stay may encourage ongoing investment and good work in the Cook Islands,” says Samuela.
“It may also encourage non-Cook Islanders to make more than an economic contribution to the country.”