It is high time for the government and the Immigration New Zealand to comes up with a definition of who qualifies as "normally resident work visa holders" and the accurate numbers of such temporary migrants who are stuck overseas.
As of now, there seems to be a complete confusion and disarray in the absence of accurate numbers of temporary work visa holders who were ordinarily living and working in New Zealand before being locked out of borders since March 2020.
A press release from the office of the Minister of Immigration Kris Fafooi on Wednesday, September 9 announcing new border exception that may allow 850 odd work visa holders back into the country once again acknowledges the fact that the government understands that there are temporary migrants who were ordinarily resident in NZ and are currently caught overseas.
However, it fails to provide a tentative number of such "normally resident work visa holders" out of which only a probable 850 might qualify to get an exception to enter NZ.
Similarly, Immigration New Zealand in response to the Indian Weekender's explicit query about the exact numbers of work visa holders who were ordinarily living in New Zealand and now stuck overseas categorically stated, "Regarding your initial request for "an update on numbers of temporary migrants (ordinarily resident in NZ) stuck overseas," we are unable to provide the number of 'ordinarily resident' temporary migrants who are offshore with visas expiring, as this information is not available in an easily reportable format."
From what the Indian Weekender understands from the INZ response that there is no clear data either in a tabulated form about different visa category people (say essential work visa, post-study work visa open work visa, and other work visa category) or in total who had valid visas when borders were closed in March this year that can inform our collective understanding of the scale of the problem government is dealing with.
While the government is generously asserting that they are aware of some "normally resident work visa holders" who are stuck overseas, they seem to not have accurate figures to understand the size of the problem it is dealing with.
Noted immigration Lawyer Alastair McClymont concurred with the absence of accurate data on the numbers of such overseas stranded temporary migrant workers and said. "It is indeed a hit and miss. We don't know where to get a breakdown of different work visa categories who are stuck overseas."
Why it matters?
So how we solve a problem while we do not know the scale of the problem.
It is a matter of public interest to know how many of those who were holding different types of work visas and eligible to enter NZ at the time of the border closure, have been still left out after yesterday's drip-relief for a minuscule category.
Attempting to solve a problem without having accurate data and figures in front could very well be shooting in the dark if not a wasteful exercise altogether.
Moreover, in the absence of accurate data, the nature of the problem is also continuously evolving as the visas of many stranded temporary migrants have expired in the last six months of the border closure.
They can soon become "forgotten generation"
The biggest risk of this absence of accurate data is that soon such temporary visa holders who had invested generously to build a life in New Zealand can slip into oblivion and become "forgotten-generation," as INZ is struggling to keep a tab on their visa situation on which an appropriate policy could be designed.
Ranjodh Singh who has lived in New Zealand for more than five years working in South Island dairy farms and has a family and a New Zealand born child is most likely to miss out from the government's recent "new border exception."
"We are stuck in India together from the last six months. We have a four & half-year-old son with us. He was born in NZ. We lived in NZ for seven years. My husband worked as a Dairy Farm Manager in Dipton, Southland. He had resigned from his current job before coming to holidays and given a notice period until May 24, with his start date of the new job in Clinton on June 1
"However he couldn't make it on time to get back to NZ, and his new employer wasn't able to wait for him that long because calving season starts from Mid of June in Dairy Farming industry," Ranjodh and his wife told the Indian Weekender.
Unfortunately, this family will not qualify under the minuscule window that the government has recently opened for the new exception category.
Kuldeep first arrived in New Zealand in 2015 on a student visa and returned India for the first time in February 2020 after five years. Now he is stuck overseas, lost his job in June 2020 and tried in vain three times to get an exception.
Sahib Singh was luckily on essential skill visa (one of the visa category allowed under new border exception), but that too expired agonisingly close in August 2020, and his employer had let him go after holding his job tight for months, thus making him ineligible under the new border exception category.
The bigger problem is that Immigration New Zealand seems to not have a system that keeps on tabulating all such cases, where visas are expiring while being locked out of the country for no fault of their own.
It is for the government to step up and come up with a more humane, rational, and practical solution to a problem where inaction or little action is further complicating the situation.