COVID-19 has left thousands of people in limbo all over the world as we work together to prevent the spread of this deadly virus. So many people who were travelling at the time the pandemic hit have been unable to return to their home countries or the country where they were working. Consular services all over the globe are being asked to support people in this situation, and to find ways to get their people home, and their migrant workers back when the borders re-open and it is safe to travel.

Many New Zealanders and NZ permanent residents are in the same situation. Many have shared their stories with me – families split over different continents during lockdown; migrant workers stranded overseas with their whole lives back here in New Zealand; migrants stranded in New Zealand and unable to get home. Border closure has been an essential part of the many sacrifices we have all made to keep people in New Zealand safe.

I acknowledge that this has been an incredibly tough time for so many – and even more so for those who have lost loved ones, jobs and face uncertain futures.

Our government’s plan to go hard and early has prevented the devastation seen in other countries. The Government’s decisive action at the start of the pandemic has saved lives and New Zealand’s collective effort means that we now have a chance to eliminate COVID-19. Winning the fight against the virus is our best economic strategy. We want to do it once and do it right – and not have to go back into lockdown.

Now, the Government’s focus is to support the recovery of New Zealand’s economy so that we can rebuild better. That means continuing to fight the virus and keeping people in work - carefully opening up the economy and growing jobs that pay well by supporting businesses and communities that will sustain our future.

I know that many migrants stranded overseas are advocating for the border to reopen so that they can come back to New Zealand and resume their lives. However, considering international travel still poses a significant risk to the spread of COVID-19, the borders need to remain closed until public health advice indicates that it’s safe to reopen them.

In the meantime, the Immigration (COVID-19 Response) Amendment Bill that recently passed into law, allows the government to respond efficiently to Immigration issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. It enables the government to help groups of people with temporary and Resident visas at once instead of one-by-one, which is time consuming and expensive. The Minister is currently awaiting advice on using the new powers and will make decisions as quickly as possible on potential visa changes that may assist those people stuck outside the country at this time.

Many work visa holders have lived and worked in New Zealand for many years prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and are now stranded overseas are worried that if they lose their employment, their visa will lapse, the time, energy and money they’ve put into working towards a permanent residence will be in jeopardy – all through no fault of their own. I have heard from many in this situation and want them to know that I have raised this with the Minister for consideration.

Work visa holders here in New Zealand who have lost their jobs can look for employment options using the ‘Keep New Zealand Working’ online recruitment tool for people directly impacted by COVID-19. It connects them directly to the employer; making it quicker and easier to find work. The tool also provides online training courses.

Those who need additional support for food, accommodation or other essential items can contact their local Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) group. This support is available to those who need it regardless of their Immigration status. They can find the number for their region here: https://www.civildefence.govt.nz/

Finally, the government also continues to work on repatriation efforts. Approximately 2,500 Kiwis and their families have been assisted to return to New Zealand – including from India – or to their country of residence through government or privately-facilitated repatriation flights.

We know that there are Kiwis and permanent residents still stranded in India. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) continues to work with Indian authorities on the issue of repatriation flights that might benefit New Zealanders. This includes flights operated by Air India that have been organised to repatriate the large number of Indian citizens stranded here in NZ. We are aware that many are stranded in the Southern states. I have previously raised, with MFAT, the need for options for those stranded in the southern states and will continue to do so.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Labour List MP based in Maungakiekie, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Ethnic Communities