Research released in The Lancet Global Health journal yesterday suggested that restrictions such as temporary visa status and detention were associated with poor mental health.

The article, Restrictive migration policies contribute to poor migrant health in high-income countries, was based on research which found that international migrants facing restrictive policies such as temporary visa status, detention, and reduced access to welfare were less likely to use general health services, and were at greater risk of poor mental health and dying prematurely from any cause compared with native populations.

According to the research, migrants would benefit from countries adopting a ‘Health in All Policies’ perspective, which considered the health effects of all migrant-orientated policies as well as a human-rights framework that emphasised the rights of migrants under international law.

Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand chief executive Shaun Robinson said that immigration processes in New Zealand needed to be compassionate and culturally-responsive.

“We do know the process of migration can be hugely stressful and taxing and this would have a large impact on anyone’s mental health.

“Migrants are more likely to be isolated and find it hard to connect with New Zealanders because of language and cultural barriers and both of these things contribute to poor mental health.

“We also know that migrant communities are less likely to be diagnosed with mental health problems despite them being more at risk, which often means they won’t receive the support they need.”

Improved cultural competency is critical to improving the mental health and wellbeing of migrant populations, he said.

“Current models of treatment need to be adapted to encourage greater inclusion and increase mental health literacy.”

Research co-leader Dr Sol Pía Juárez, of Stockholm University, said the rise in international migration from about 155 million people in 2000 to 258 million in 2017 “has been met with increasingly hostile policy responses across the world—putting migrants at risk of ill-health and psychological damage, and profoundly undermining their human rights”.

One of the authors, Dr Andrea Dunlavy, of London’s University College, said more inclusive integration approaches for migrants is likely to have a positive effect on their health and life opportunities.

“While international law supports improving the health of migrants, its enforcement is weak, and countries must be held to account.”

In the study, researchers looked at the effects of different public policy types, at multiple stages of the migration process, on health outcomes.

They examined the impact of non-health-related public policies on migrant health compared with other populations who had not been exposed to these policies between January 2000 and September 2017.

Results suggested that more restrictive entry policies were associated with increased levels of poor mental health among migrants including psychological distress, depression and anxiety.

Compared to groups exposed to less restrictive integration policies international migrants were more likely to report poor general health, and faced greater risk of poor mental health and adverse birth outcomes and were at higher risk of premature death.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said because the research covered factors affecting health such as visa status, detention and access to welfare which are managed by Immigration NZ, any comment needed to come from them.

An Immigration NZ spokesperson would not comment directly on the article but said there were a number of different health situations for migrants and many were eligible for publicly funded health care.

Eligibility for publicly funded health care in New Zealand:

  • The eligibility for publicly funded health care is set by the Ministry of Health. There are a number of ways in which people can be eligible for publicly funded health and disability services, and one is if they hold a work visa that either:
    • Entitles them to remain in New Zealand for two years or more (work visas start on the person’s first day in New Zealand) OR
    • Entitles them to remain in New Zealand for a period of time which, together with the time that person has already been lawfully in New Zealand immediately prior to obtaining the visa, equals or exceeds two years.

Immigration NZ health requirements:

  • All non-New Zealanders coming to New Zealand must have an acceptable standard of health so as not to impose undue costs or demands on New Zealand’s public health system.
  • Everyone who applies for a visa to live in New Zealand for more than 12 months must have a medical and chest x-ray certificate.
  • People coming to New Zealand who intend to work, study or visit for more than six months and less than 12 months and who are from a country which is not on Immigration New Zealand’s list of countries with a low incidence of Tuberculosis (TB), have a TB chest screening x-ray before they can be approved. Children under 11 and pregnant women are not usually required to have an x-ray.
  • Applicants are considered to have an acceptable standard of health if they are:
    • Unlikely to be a danger to public health
    • Unlikely to impose significant costs or demands on New Zealand’s health and/or special education services.
    • (If they are under 21 and are applying for a student or resident visa) unlikely to qualify for Ongoing Resourcing Schemes (ORS) funding during their period of intended stay in New Zealand; and
    • Able to undertake the work or study on the basis of which they are applying for a visa, or which is a requirement for the grant of the visa.

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