Immigration New Zealand has taken steps to close a loophole which it says immigrants were exploiting to bring children who are sick, disabled or have special needs into the country.
It has prohibited parents from leaving children off residence applications or withdrawing them, as it said some families were doing so to circumvent health criteria and then later making a humanitarian case for their child to be allowed to stay.
The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment(MBIE) is exploring how to carry out a data match with the Ministry of Education to identify the number of unlawful dependent children receiving special needs education funding.
Immigration officials can reject a residence application for all family members if one of them does not meet criteria and that policy is aimed at minimising costs on publicly-funded healthcare and special education services.
A report by MBIE found nine cases over two years where families had appealed under humanitarian criteria to have the child join them after omitting them from their initial application.
It also found seven appeals against deportation by children after they were removed from their family's residence application.
The report said the new regulations, which came into force this month, were necessary to stop applicants for residence trying to bypass mandatory health requirements by not disclosing or withdrawing dependants from a family's residence application, when the child's health would prevent the family from getting residence.
"A small number of families with dependent children and partners who have high cost health conditions (and therefore do not meet health requirements) are attempting to circumvent immigration requirements," it said.
"The dependants with health conditions are excluded or withdrawn from the family's resident visa application, to ensure a positive decision. This behaviour undermines the integrity of the immigration system.
"This results in a split immigration outcome, with all but one member of a family getting residence, and the excluded person often facing the prospect of leaving New Zealand or becoming unlawful."
The report said not including all dependants in the family meant immigration officials could not consider a medical waiver for a child, which would weigh the potential cost of an applicant's health and related education needs against the applicant family's potential contribution to New Zealand.
But parents were taking that course of action to get residence, and then appealing to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal on humanitarian grounds where a child faced deportation or separation from their family.
While the tribunal could find that the decision to decline was correct, it can recommend that special circumstances warrant the Minister of Immigration considering granting residence because the family is now well settled in New Zealand and it would be unduly harsh to separate them.
The regulations affect resident applications where dependants already hold, or have applied for a temporary entry class visa, based on their relationship to the principal applicant.
Dependant family members who are attempting to circumvent character requirements would also be prevented from being removed from applications, but MBIE said it had no evidence to suggest it was a problem at present.