The recent announcement on border re-opening has opened a new front for the government – to manage the issue of fast growing trust deficit in the government.
Following the five-step phased border re-opening plan, both citizens and residents and temporary migrants are coming to terms with the issue of trust, or not trusting, this government.
For citizens and residents, the trust deficit in government is around keeping the promise of MIQ-free entry if and when they choose to travel overseas and return back to the country.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had rightly said that the anguish of MIQ has been real and heart-breaking in the last two years while taking another shot at border re-opening last week after having to roll back the initial plan amidst Omicron-scare in the community.
Ardern never acknowledged that it’s not the system of Managed Isolation and Quarantine per se that the onshore and offshore New Zealanders along with temporary migrants detest equally. It is the appalling management of the system that has caused much heartache and frustration amongst the prospective travellers and different stakeholders within the travel industry.
There is a palpable sense of trust deficit amongst those who want to plan their future travel, out and in the country, which is widely corroborated by travel operators who continue to live on the long rope of hope of resumption of normal international travel soon than actual certainty.
This trust deficit gets further exacerbated within the migrant communities, who often have lives and families scattered around different corners of the world and depend on unhindered international travel, and certainty of rules and regulations across international borders – and unfortunately, both have become distorted in the current environment of a global pandemic.
Undeniably, the NZ government has been far more conservative and risk-averse than any comparable country in the world towards controlling the border and entry into the country – to the extent that not only temporary visa holders (both offshore and onshore) but also NZ citizens (offshore and onshore) have felt severely constrained.
However, it is most difficult for temporary visa holders to trust this government as it continues to take decisions reactively and make rules on the go, often creating unintended consequences of its policies, which aggravates their plight.
The latest anomaly in the making that the Indian Weekender had earlier pointed out is leaving the partners and families of onshore temporary migrants last in the queue to enter into the country, only when all foreigners would eventually be allowed in October this year.
A potential new anomaly is waiting to happen when new incoming temporary migrants have the ability to bring their partners, while those on shore still are not being able to do so.
The undue emphasis on the “living together” clause of the immigration rules for partnership visa – which has been causing tremendous problems for a large number of temporary migrants wanting to bring their overseas-based partners into the country, particularly the Kiwi-Indian community since mid-2019, but it has become a great disruptor in the last two years of the border closure.
Apparently, there are hundreds of partners split from Kiwis (and temporary migrants) whose applications have been assessed as genuine and credible but were living together criteria are not met and therefore not allowed in the country.
Sadly, the government has failed to prioritise them ahead of holidaymakers, tourists, and travellers from visa-free countries that the government is envisaging to bring from the third stage of border re-opening on April 13.
Soon after the Prime Minister’s border opening announcement on 3 February, there was criticism about keeping the onshore temporary migrant workers locked inside the country when it was gearing up to open borders for foreigners and tourists.
Following that line of criticism, the government had quietly pushed the announcement of letting currently onshore temporary migrants travel overseas without losing the ability to enter NZ as long as their visa conditions are met.
Interestingly, not many among those 200,000-odd temporary visa holders currently in the country have any inkling that they have been given this ability to leave NZ and be allowed back into the country after April 13 – the third stage of border re-opening.
So million dollar question is should temporary migrants trust the government on this “act of kindness” hurled their way – without any fanfare.
The answer from any temporary migrant worker on the road may not be hard to guess – as learning from the sad plight of those who have been permanently locked out of the country when borders were first closed in March 2020 – they would not budge to leave the country without getting their residency sorted.
However, there seems to be no one worried about the trust deficit in the government.
The recent polls that came out on 7 February do not point toward any massive dent in confidence in the government, which continues to be comfortably placed with Labour and Green poised to form government again, the issue of receding trust deficit cannot be easily pushed under the carpet.