Immigration New Zealand has received expressions of interest from 4356 people seeking an exception from the border-closure that is currently in place to prevent the spread of the covid-19 virus in the country.
As of April 22, INZ has only approved 883 and have invited them to further apply for an appropriate visa leaving a large number of visa hopefuls high and dry.
Majority of visa-hopefuls among them are likely to be the temporary migrant workers who were living and working in NZ for years and were temporarily travelling overseas when they were caught up on the wrong side of the border closure.
Since March 20, the New Zealand border has been closed to all but citizens and residents, and immediate family members travelling with them.
There are a limited number of exceptions for any other traveller wanting to enter (or re-enter in case of temporary migrant workers) that INZ is considering on a case by case basis.
The Indian Weekender has been approached and is in constant contact with many such stranded temporary migrant workers and their immediate families who had a life here in New Zealand with homes, rents, bank loans, car loans, jobs and most importantly dreams of a Kiwi-life.
Unfortunately, the government is yet undecided on letting them in the country, unless they have a critical reason to travel to the country.
Exceptions to the current border restrictions, which are set by the New Zealand government, may be considered for Health and other essential workers, Citizens of Samoa and Tonga for essential travel to New Zealand and Humanitarian reasons.
Given that this is a fast-moving space with clarity emerging slowly on what actually constitutes essential work for immigration purposes, there has been much confusion and desperation among these overseas-stranded temporary migrant workers.
The Indian Weekender has spoken to many such migrant workers who normally worked in NZ in supermarkets, telecommunications, district health boards, primary industries and many more sectors and businesses deemed as “essential services” have been denied exception to the border closure.
Apparently there has been confusion around “essential services workers” and essential workers for immigration purposes that needs to be further clarified.
For someone who was working as a medical administrator in any District Health Board before current lockdown, they can still work as essential services if they are in New Zealand.
However, for those who are stranded outside New Zealand they are not allowed back in the country as they are not deemed as essential services for immigration purposes under current Covid-19 lockdown environment.
Gurpreet Singh - a social worker and a member of the union is helping many such stranded migrant workers
Temp migrant workers face multitude of problems related to wage, employment and visa status
While the rest of the country is hunkered down in lockdown trying to wade off the threat of deadly virus and worrying about their financial future, the temporary migrant workers stranded out of NZ borders are facing problems at a different level.
The temporary migrant workers are facing a multitude of problems ranging from wages, employment status and most importantly visa status as most of their visas are related to employers or the business they are currently working in, and in the current environment many of the businesses are either falling apart or their future is bleak.
This is despite them living and working in New Zealand for quite some time and trying to build a permanent life in this country.
There is lack of clarity or roadmap for them of what will happen if their current work visas expire and they remain stranded overseas, except being repeatedly told to wait while the government eventually decides on this important matter.
Meanwhile, these stranded migrant workers are being supported by several immigration lawyers, employment advisers, members of the union to keep them abreast with the evolving situation and keep their hopes for the future in NZ alive.
Gurpreet Singh, one such member of the union, told the Indian Weekender how they are coordinating all efforts to bring necessary information for the overseas stranded migrant workers.
“As of today, we have more than 400 temporary migrant workers connected.
We have a big list of 18 pages of people those who are stranded and some of them have visas due to expire in the next 6 months
Some of them have been waiting for residence visas and are now stuck while their residence visas were in process
We have made submissions to the office of the Prime Minister, Minister of Immgration and also raised with the leader of the Opposition Party,” Gurpreet said.
To be fair to the government, it already has a lot on the table, ranging from handling the public health crisis to managing the lockdown and eventually preparing the country out of Alert Level 4 lockdown.
However, that should not be an excuse from failing to act decisively to safeguard the interests of temporary migrant workers - who seemingly might be at the lowest level of skilled workforce - but as the covid-19 lockdown tells us can be quickly turned into the most essential and the most desirable workforce.
Anyway, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had said while addressing the Australian Prime Minister Scot Morrison supporting the case of Kiwi workers in Oz that when the economy will come out of this downturn “you will need a trained workforce,” it applies the same for New Zealand workers.
Let's not leave our trained temporary migrant workers out of the country and let them in the country - where they were before the onset of border closure due to Covid-19 pandemic.