A first person account of dealing with NZ’s MIQ system – and some takeaways from the experience

In today’s day and age it’s tough to imagine it took me six months before I could finally travel back home. Though we all acknowledge that we are living in unprecedented times and travelling across borders, which until a couple of years ago was a necessity, has now become a luxury.

Let me take you through my adventurous journey of “home coming.” I had not seen my family in NZ for nearly two years, the Pandemic started in early 2020 and by the end of the year, we were getting used to the “new normal”. Sanitizers and face masks were the new must have accessories.  

In April 2021 I started planning my journey. First things first, I wanted to check flight availability as this was the time when the Delta variant was peaking in India. To say I was anxious would be an understatement, even to accomplish simple activities like getting groceries, going for a walk amidst were quite an adventure. During this time the NZ government designated India as a high risk country, most airlines were not flying and if someone managed to fly out it was either to care give a close family member or in some extreme cases attend a funeral.

The big question “How long until we get there” remained unanswered. During this time I also found I was pregnant so there was added motivation to come back home be with family. I started spending hours on the MIQ website and few days later I managed to get an MIQ voucher for July. This was an absolute delight and kind if unbelievable.

The virus spread weakened over the coming weeks and my hopes were getting high. Sporting events started to pick up, UK was the front runner in opening its borders. However, most countries had still not warmed up especially for any outbound flights from India and as a result my scheduled flight in July was cancelled. I could no longer use the MIQ voucher. And as destiny would have it at the same time NZ was also jittery due to the trans-Tasman bubble and to the emerging Delta variant cases in Australia. As a responsible citizen I thought if I can’t use the voucher let me cancel it so someone else can use it and MIQ team will accommodate me on a different date. Little did I know this good gesture would cost me my booking. I was told since you cancelled the voucher you no longer have a booking and the MIQ team can do nothing about it.

I was shattered and started writing e mails explaining my case, had multiple exchanges with the MIQ team who were just not ready to budge. I reached out to our ethnic MP who even refused to acknowledge my e-mail. As a last resort I reached out to my local electorate MP, his team was at least  kind enough to reply and they asked me to put my case through emergency allocation – I had already tried that path.

And just to clarify unless one of your close family members is dying (not even dead because funerals are not an emergency according to the MIQ rules) there is no such thing that can be an emergency. so I requested a phone call with the MP’s secretary to further explain, as I had  small window left to travel considering my pregnancy. The phone conversation left me devastated, when the minister’s PA told me “government doesn’t want unnecessary people entering the country”, “There is not much that we can do”. I was sad, shocked and wondered where did I go wrong? These words were hurtful and this is not what NZ stands for especially at a time when the leader of the country claims to lead by compassion.

I took to Twitter to vent my frustration, and many appreciated the pain, some techies even offered to help me and many of them shared their story. One of whom connected me to a travel agent who helped me draft an email and requesting to reinstate my voucher to six weeks later. By then I would was heavily pregnant, but I had no option but to take that chance. I clearly remember it was 3 am in India time when I saw that email on my phone that MIQ had reinstated my voucher for 7 September. I couldn’t believe, I jumped out of joy and cried like a baby at the same time, called my family in NZ, made myself a cuppa tea... Now I was just keeping my fingers crossed that my scheduled flight would take off as expected. Travelling is almost like a jig saw puzzle every single piece has to be rightly placed before you can claim hurrah!

In the last 12 months tables have turned, NZ’s approach is outdated, last year around this time the world was cautious and NZ was envied for being Covid free, whereas, now the world has learnt, adopted to new ways of dealing with the virus and we continue to battle the same way as we did when the virus started.

I am glad my story had a happy ending and as I pen down my story, we are at alert level 3 in Auckland. I do wish for those wanting to come back home, it should not be such a struggle. The government has made changes to the system but the so called “improved” lobby-based lottery system can’t be a public policy – in fact, it’s a national shame.

Lastly, my key take outs if you are planning to book an MIQ -

Getting a voucher is nothing but a game of fastest finger first, be resilient

Seeking any help from the authorities, outside of the prescribed method will take you no where

Unless a close family member is terminally ill nothing else meets the emergency criteria

People who are tech savvy will certainly have an edge over others

Stay positive If I could get a voucher so can you

Written by Mehak Vasisht who is well known in the community and also has been a RJ at a popular hindi Radio Station