Australia immigration law costly to NZers

A lawyer says it will cost New Zealand expatriates many thousands in legal fees to challenge immigration detention under a reinvigorated law.

Queensland lawyers and community groups say about 60 New Zealand men on remand in a Brisbane prison have lost their visas under the section 116 law, and say there are probably hundreds more in Queensland like this, let alone in other states.

The law allows Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to cancel the visa of a non-citizen if the person "is or may be, or would or might be, a risk" to the "health, safety or good order of the Australian community".

The Immigration Department told RNZ the section was most often used when a person was deemed to pose an "immediate risk".

Sydney immigration lawyer Simon Jeans said there was no immediate risk in the cases he has seen.

He said often people were under court supervision and the immigration department was "trying it on".

"They're seeing if they can get away with this process and hoping the New Zealanders are not going to retain a lawyer to direct them."

Mr Jeans was initially sceptical a ramping up of section 116 could be happening.

"I was thinking what are they doing? And I realised this is something much more serious ... a much more serious policy direction."

Community advocates fear an increase in the number of cancellations under section 116 would overwhelm the lawyers available to help detainees.

And they have told RNZ many detainees balk at the $A1700 needed just to lodge an appeal, let alone pay for the likely thousands of dollars in legal fees.

In addition, under Australia's three-year-long immigration crackdown, detainees were being moved around much more - both interstate and onto Christmas Island, Mr Jeans said.

This made mounting appeals very difficult, which appeared to be authorities' intention, he said.

There has been a large increase in visa cancellations since 2015 when the Australian government started using a different law - section 501 - to detain and deport people with serious or several offences.

Since then New Zealanders have made up 55 percent of the hundreds of people detained because of criminal convictions - or on character grounds, a measure commonly applied to New Zealand-born bikies.

However, section 116 has an even lower threshold, Mr Jeans said.

"[It] could be used in the event of almost any criminal offence - family violence being the most obvious, but assault, affray or other crimes which can attract a fine or community service - even if only one offence".

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