Principal immigration officer Kairangi Samuela says the amendment serves three main purposes.
“It allows immigration officers to refuse entry to certain individuals, and establishes a requirement for airlines to provide information (this is already being provided to us by the airlines under the Customs Act, and the amendment legalises this process for immigration purposes), and for information-sharing between ourselves and overseas agencies.”
Samuela says the amendment effectively changed section 12 of the ERD Act which says, “entry permits are not required in certain cases”.
“These cases include ‘bona fide visitors’ (section 12 (12). A bona fide visitor is a person who enters the Cook Islands solely for the purpose of holidaying or recreation, does not engage in the practice of any profession, business, trade or other commercial trade.
“So the amendment means that even though a person comes into the country as a bona fide visitor, we can refuse entry if we have reason to believe that they are likely to be a threat or risk to the security of the Cook Islands or to public order or the public interest.
“We believed that this person who had criminal convictions and criminal gang affiliations was a threat to the public interest of the Cook Islands, hence his being refused entry.”
Immigration is now preparing drafting instructions for a new Immigration Act supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise and has had two in-country consultations over the last few months with key agencies as well as the House of Ariki, the Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce and others, says Samuela.
“As we are well aware, the nature of immigration work over the last two decades has changed significantly, especially in relation to border security risks and transnational crimes, increase in volumes of people travelling into our country as tourists, migrant workers, investors, community based volunteers.
“This shows government’s commitment to strengthening our legislative framework so we can better address these challenges.
“There will be opportunities for more consultations over the next couple of months on the drafting Instructions and regulations and of course during the Select Committee process when it is presented to Parliament.”
The refusal of entry for the motorcycle gang member is a positive development in strengthening MFAI’s ability to ensure individuals coming into the Cook Islands don’t pose a potential risk to the country, Samuela adds.
“Timely, evidence-based national and regional intelligence is a vital part of our process in assessing risk and decision making for refusal of entry into the Cook Islands.”
“Our ability on this occasion to prevent the entry of this individual emphasises the importance of strong domestic border control agency relationships and a co-ordinated and collaborative regional approach to sharing intelligence, utilising agencies such as the PTCCC to identify, disrupt and combat potential security risks and transnational crime to the Cook Islands and our Pacific region”.
MFAI’s immigration strengthening programme coincides with broader regional efforts to strengthen border security mechanisms and processes within the Pacific, Samuela says.