The Government's new parent visa category is just for the rich and "blatantly discriminatory", an immigration adviser says.

And those who have been left in limbo with parents on the waiting list for years say it's still too early to celebrate.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway on Monday announced the Government would from February, 2020 restart the Parent Category visa programme, which allows parents to join adult children who have become residents or citizens and earn over a certain amount.

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The previous Government in late 2016 temporarily closed the category, citing a growing cost to taxpayers and a need for a review. Immigration New Zealand has not considered applicants from the category since.

But the policy is returning with fish hooks.

Where previously a single earner had to make $65,000 a year to sponsor a parent, they'll now need to earn $106,000 and about $159,000 if they want to bring two parents. That's three times the median New Zealand income.

A couple will have to earn over $159,000 to be joined by one parent and $212,000 by two.

Auckland-based immigration adviser Gerard Cohen said while reopening the category was a positive step, the income thresholds were simply beyond most people on the waiting list, and "elitist".

"It is blatantly discriminatory against poor people and against middle-income earners. They're out," he said.

"It's for the rich. It's basically for the rich."

Betty Mills, 85, has been on the waiting list to join her daughter in New Zealand for more than three years. Photo supplied.
Betty Mills, 85, has been on the waiting list to join her daughter in New Zealand for more than three years. Photo supplied.

Cohen said he would estimate that of those in the current waiting pool, about 70 to 80 per cent would drop off.


The Government's cap of 1000 parents a year was also too small, he said.

The Government has offered to refund the application fees of those who no longer qualify. Despite the halt in 2016, about 2000 people had applied, paying fees of about $1 million by January this year.

Auckland University professor Deborah Levy's 85-year-old mother, Betty Mills, applied to come to New Zealand from London six months before the category closed and the family have been anxiously waiting since, unable to make major life decisions.

"As a daughter it's been really hard to watch that and not being there for her. Especially when it's celebrations or times when you want to be there for her," Levy said.

"It's been really tough. The not knowing has been awful … It has put us under a heck of a lot of stress."

She said the closure of the category had felt like a "betrayal".

"I've been here for 33 years, I've never not worked for one day, I've always given … and to suddenly have this happen to you, it really knocks you for six."

The family was luckier than many, in that it net the income threshold, but with the cap and changes to the policy, Levy said she was still too nervous to tell her mother.

"We don't have a guarantee of anything," she said.

"We're still very much in limbo ... but let's see what happens. I'm certainly not celebrating yet."

Levy said she was incredibly sad for those who did not meet the income threshold and agreed it was discriminatory.

"We really feel for the lower-middle income earners that this is another stab in the back by the Government."

The return of the policy came after reports it was caught up in negotiations with NZ First.

In a statement, Lees-Galloway said there had always been financial requirements and the policy was designed to attract and retain skilled migrants.

"The presence of parents as part of the family is also linked to improved settlement and economic outcomes for their migrant children," he said.