A former immigration minister is calling for a temporary halt on deportations and says Immigration NZ is putting the nation at risk of a Covid-19 outbreak if it continues with them.
An overstayer Rajinder Singh was taken into custody as a result of an outstanding order last Friday, and is now on home detention.
The agency has carried out about 70 deportations and issued a further 50 deportation orders since the Covid-19 outbreak escalated in March.
Tuariki Delamere, who is also Singh's immigration adviser, said even though these deportation cases may not be linked to the virus testing process, they will still scare overstayers from getting tested.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins and INZ have said information collected through the testing process would not be used for immigration purposes.
There are more than 10,000 overstayers in New Zealand who can't be traced or contacted to take a virus test.
Delamere, who is standing as The Opportunities Party candidate for Auckland Central, said it was unlawful for overstayers to be detained during the pandemic.
"It is not only unethical but also unlawful for INZ to detain overstayers when it is unable to effect the deportation in a reasonable timeframe," he said.
Delamere said there was no real prospect of deporting Singh until 2021 after Covid-19 closed the borders of New Zealand, India and most of the transit countries in between.
"Singh's arrest highlights the critical dangerous Covid-19 predicament we are in. The current community spread in Auckland has largely been confined to the Pasifika community, a community with many hundreds of overstayers," Delamere said.
"It's critical to the health and safety of the team of five million that every overstayer gets tested if they show symptoms or have been exposed to Covid-19."
He said jailing and detaining overstayers "will guarantee" that no overstayer will come forward to be tested.
"We need to have overstayers to have the peace of mind to come forward and be tested," Delamere said.
"The health and lives of New Zealanders are way, way more important than trying to deport overstayers ... especially when we can't even deport them at the moment."
He said an amnesty on people overstaying their visas would be appropriate during the pandemic.
Stephen Vaughan, INZ's general manager verification and compliance said the agency understands Covid-19 has impacted many visa holders in NZ and was taking a reasonable approach to compliance action at this time.
"INZ continues to manage deportation cases in accordance with deportation and detention provisions under the Immigration Act 2009, serving Deportation Liability Notices and Deportation Orders, where appropriate, to migrants who may be liable for deportation because of criminal activity or other public interest factors," Vaughan said.
"The current focus is on managing ongoing priority deportation cases on a case by case basis, taking into account each individual's circumstances, international border closures, transit options and the availability of flights."
However, he said it was imperative that anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 should contact Healthline on 0800 3585453 or their doctor.
"An individual's immigration status will not impact on their ability to receive Covid-19 related health care," Vaughan said.
"People unlawfully in New Zealand should seek medical advice if they are unwell. Their treatment will be in complete confidence and their information will not be passed on to other agencies."