New Zealand authorities have announced they will bar people from migrating to the country if they have illnesses that could be contagious or costly to treat, including HIV or AIDS. Immigration minister Lianne Dalziel said that later this year potential migrants will have to be screened before they leave their home countries for conditions such as tuberculosis, hepatitis B, and significant kidney disease.
Migrants putting public health at risk or who could need expensive treatment by the health system will be "declined entry," she said. Under current rules, people coming to New Zealand are asked to declare whether they have a range of illnesses--but they are not tested for most of them. Dalziel said the new screening policy will apply from March to overseas students wanting to stay in New Zealand for more than six months. From mid 2004 it will apply to visitors or workers intending to stay for longer than a year.
The boost to existing screening measures will also identify potential costs to the health, education, and social welfare systems, Dalziel said. New Zealand's health system spends millions of dollars each year treating in their homelands sick Pacific Islanders who are unable to access treatment for illnesses like advanced heart and kidney disease. With an obesity epidemic seriously affecting health in many impoverished and small Pacific island states, New Zealand planners fear that more people from the region will try to seek treatment under the nation's free public health system.
Anti-migrant New Zealand First Party leader Winston Peters said the new checks should be introduced immediately to lessen the load on the "struggling" health system. Peters said he had long warned of the dangers of importing diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis through "mass immigration." "The reaction to my warnings has usually been an accusation of racism," he said in a statement. Dalziel said the review was not the result of pressure from Peters to curb immigration. "A country is entitled in determining whether people are eligible for residence or not to undertake...a cost-benefit analysis," she said. The new policy will mean a law change, which is expected to win wide support among legislators.