The fact that the government has no rationale whatsoever to not extend the expired visas of temporary migrant workers who were otherwise living and working in NZ before March 2020 and locked out of closed borders – or at best – does not bother to tell the public – is simply put - arrogant.

The Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi was pointedly asked by the Indian Weekender on Wednesday at the side-lines of the government’s immigration rebalance announcement at Business NZ’s pre-budget lunch about what was the rationale behind not extending expired visas of temporary migrants stuck overseas.

The Minister responded by saying, “We have taken the decision that when we open the borders, those whose visas have expired will have the ability to apply for new visas.”

Clearly, either there was no rationale, or the government did not bother to explain to the public why tens of thousands of temporary migrant workers, including post-study work visa holders who had invested tens of thousands of dollars and had a life in NZ, were not being allowed back.

This is at a time when New Zealand’s economy is already facing an acute shortage of skilled workers, and the government, and on its own admission, is on a mission to attract a “globally high in demand” skilled migrant workforce through its newly announced immigration-rebalance.

Most of those temporary migrant workers were New Zealand trained and educated and with clear demonstrable New Zealand work experience - yet the government have chosen to trample on the repeated, emotional, and seemingly, not in-genuine request to be allowed back into the country.

New Zealand is on a path of economic recovery after two years of the Covid pandemic and needs skilled migrant workers and those temporary migrants stuck overseas are first in the queue who could possibly have returned back and immediately start contributing to the economy.

However, the government does not want them. Or erroneously assume that most of them - after having lost their everything in New Zealand - will again be tempted to apply for a new visa and seek entry into the country.

This is at the backdrop of the government’s self-stated drive to attract more globally sought after skilled migrant workers, and international students to New Zealand in the form of a recently announced immigration rebalance.

If the government thinks that this will go unnoticed amongst those high-in demand skilled migrant workers who could potentially choose New Zealand to live and work, then the government is indeed living in la-la land.

Many of the newly announced measures under the new immigration rebalance, such as restricting the ability to get post-study work visa options more than once and removing the ability of partners of future skilled migrant workers to get an open work visa, will anyway disincentivise many potential migrant workers from choosing NZ as their preferred destination.

New Zealand already pays the lowest wages to the high skilled migrant workers, restricts them from bringing their parents, and now by removing automatic work rights for their partners, the government does not seem to enhance the attractiveness of NZ as a preferred destination.

However, regardless of how the future of immigration rebalance will unfold and help the employers and migrant workers, the response meted out to hapless temporary migrant workers is just not right.

While keeping them at bay, when New Zealand had to hunker down and close the borders in the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic to save our own people was still understandable to some extent.

At least there was a hope – largely embedded in the long-cherished brand image of Kiwi-kindness and good bloke image that when borders eventually open, they will be allowed back into the country.

By not doing so, the government is putting the brand reputation of New Zealand as a preferred destination for migrants – including skilled workers and international students – at much risk.

Although, it is clear that this government is fully aware of that and is willing to bear the consequences and is focussing on “new markets” of international students and skilled migrant workers.

For now, it seems that the long-standing international student markets like India, which have for long provided the highest numbers for NZ’s otherwise $5 billion international education export industry – instead of being nurtured and developed – is being coldly ignored.