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5 December 2020

Six years and out for expat workers’

Tuesday 26 May 2020 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Economy

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Six years and out for expat workers’
Kairangi Samuela. 18081702

New law would set a time limit on how long foreign nationals can stay and work in Cook Islands.

Expat workers’ stay in Cook Islands is to be capped at six years.

Principal immigration officer Kairangi Samuela said the time-limit would be part of regulation to complement the new Immigration Bill.

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The plan has been met with reservations from the Private Sector Taskforce and expat workers.

Taskforce chairman Fletcher Melvin said the proposed law defeated their emphasis of “keeping good people who contribute to their businesses and the economy”.

Employers invested a lot of time and resources on capable expat workers, he said, with a view to keep them employed for the long term.

“You want to keep people that are good for your business and Cook Islands. If they were not good for our businesses, they wouldn’t be here for that long anyway. It’s bit of a burden to send them back because they have established themselves here.”

Lai Gukisuva of the Cook Islands Fijian Association said they also had reservations about this proposed legislation. The association would be making a submission when it would be put up for public consultation.

According to Immigration, the proposed law is to ensure expat workers do not lose contact with their roots.

Samuela said the regulations would be reviewed by Cabinet once the Immigration Bill had been approved by Parliament.

The select committee chaired by Internal Affairs minister Mac Mokoroa is considering at the Bill, which will undergo public consultation starting this evening at Sinai Hall.

Samuela said once the draft regulations were complete, they would also be distributed for public consultation.

“There will be a transition process once the Bill has been passed to nut out how these provisions will affect those who are already here and the implications for them.

The provision for a cap on foreign workers was first introduced in a 2003 report on the review of immigration policy.

The report conducted by then Immigration Advisory Committee chaired by Te Tika Mataiapo recommended the minister responsible be empowered to grant work permits for a term of up to three years.

The committee also recommended the minister be barred from being able to extend the cumulative time for work permits beyond six years except for those who are married to a Cook Islander or the person holds a special needed skill cannot be suitably replaced by a local.

Minister Mac Mokoroa said consultations on this Bill had been ongoing since 2003. In 2016, Immigration picked it up again and conducted a wide and extensive range of consultations to come with a revised Bill.

The select committee met with a number of stakeholders, he said, some of whom had pointed some issues with the Bill.

“A classic example is the Chamber of Commerce who pointed out the rule which allows any person to stay for maximum of six years.

“If you are a caregiver and you are employed here, it will take you probably four to five years to get accustomed and then probably on your sixth year is when you actually get used to being with the person you are looking after.”

Mokoroa said they would be holding consultation in the three vaka on Rarotonga, followed by Zoom video sessions with people from the outer islands. They would also accept written submissions, he said.

The select committee has until September 20 to report back to Parliament.