What is holding back the government from allowing temporary migrant workers back into the country soon - an absence of intent or sheer lack of capabilities. 

For a government basking in the glory of massive domestic popularity and a wide international approval, it might be slightly uncomfortable to concede the absence of either intent or capability. 

However, a pattern in the government’s instinctive response so far to the entire situation does suggest that its attention and priority are everywhere else except the temporary migrant workers languishing outside NZ borders, even when the country has successfully returned back to some form of normalcy in Alert Level 2. 

This government has clearly shown that wherever it had the attention and the intent to intervene favourably, it has done that with remarkable audacity. 

The recent announcement of income relief that many experts and social welfare advocates had criticised for being divisive for creating two separate “deserving” and “undeserving” class of beneficiaries, apart from being a symbol of middle-class welfare is a case in the point. 

The Labour Party-led government was swift and clinical in showering its support even if it challenged its very own core views of egalitarianism and principle that all people should have equal access to all social, economic, cultural, political and legal spheres, regardless of wealth or social position. 

Defending, government’s position on the offer of comparatively meaty benefit of untaxed $490 every week as opposed to the normal job support package of $250, which is further taxed, Minister of Social Development Carmel Sepuloni unabashedly said that it was because the govt was mindful of sharp income losses of some high-income earners as a fall out of Covid-19 related business collapses. 

It clearly shows that when there was an intent, there was no stopping, even of their own foundational ideological moorings, for the government to act decisively. 

 

Those in the government who might not have similar ideological convictions as their senior coalition partners would have come to the party as they also have to fight and win elections in less than four months time. 

Indeed, it is becoming more and more clear that the compelling urge of winning the impending election is influencing some of the important decisions of this government while managing the Covid-19 crisis, particularly those around managing the damage to the economy. 

In that regard, it seems that temporary migrant workers are clearly out of luck, as they do not constitute a voter constituency, which can either reward or punish the government in any manner for any perceived grievances, that probably explains the lack of conviction in ameliorating their plight. 

In fact, some of the earliest suggestions coming from senior Ministers in the government for temporary migrants were unabashedly brazen - to pack their bags and leave the country - as soon as the country came out of the lockdown. 

However, even more, nuanced and sane voices in the government did not have much meaningful to offer so far. 

To start with the alacrity of Immigration New Zealand’s response to this global health pandemic, in terms of first accumulating unprecedented powers and then unleashing a whip aimed at essential skill visa holders reflects a conservative view of the entire Covid-19 crisis as being a mere radical disruption in the labour supply and the nature of the economy that needed an immediate visa response. 

On one hand, a new law was enacted with a break-neck speed that gave INZ access to unprecedented powers - supposedly to act fast and decisively although not necessarily against temporary migrant workers - an assurance that yet needs to be seen on the ground. 

Then simultaneously on the other hand, INZ issued new circulars instructing that the essential skill visa holders and their respective employers will have to undertake a new labour market test and also give an undertaking for the sustainability of their businesses. 

While all is well in the government being agile and acting fast in anticipation of a potential increase in unemployment rates, this immediate response in no way demonstrates a sense of responsibility towards temporary migrant workers who have been equally contributing to the NZ economy and paying their taxes before being conveniently forgotten to languish outside the borders. 

Clearly the government seems to be poor in intent to provide immediate help to temporary migrant workers by not letting them back into the country and start their normal lives like other New Zealanders. 

An absence of intent, in this case, is even affecting the shoring up of capabilities - the capability in question here is largely around quarantine facilities that can facilitate a safe and a managed return of people stranded overseas. 

In politics, often there is an interesting inter-connectedness between intent and capabilities, with most experts agreeing that intentions were fickle and subject to sudden change wherever capabilities, by contrast, were relatively stable.

However, in this instance, the capability of quarantine facilities has to be massively shored up, in close cooperation with the hospitality sector that is anyhow reeling under massive disruption and downturn due to the global travel restrictions and NZ border closures. 

As of now, there does not seem to be any underlying preparation by the government to boost-up massive quarantine facilities in liaison with an under-pressure hospitality and tourism industry. 

Currently, quarantine and managed isolation are in place at our borders with all international arrivals being required to complete 14 days in Government-funded quarantine or managed isolation.

The way the two processes are being managed is that if a traveller is symptomatic on arrival, they will be tested and placed in a quarantine facility for 14 days. If a traveller is not symptomatic on arrival, they will be placed in an approved managed isolation facility for 14 days.

The Ministry of Health is using multiple facilities in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

A quick peek into the Ministry of Health website reveals that currently, the government is managing 87 people in quarantine in Auckland and another 2211 people in managed self-isolation all in the government's Auckland facilities. (Total 2298). 

However, are these facilities enough if the government decides to allow temporary migrant workers to return to New Zealand is the question to ask. 

Many immigration experts and industry stakeholders who are working closely with those temporary migrant workers locked out of NZ borders are of the opinion that the government seem to be devoid of both - clear intent and enough capabilities - to let them back into the country. 

This is despite when massive quarantine facilities are going to be needed for quite some time even when normal international travel returns to normalcy as a preventive measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Especially, when the government has shown an intent, though morally bit dubious in its desire to soon allow fee-paying international students into the country even when not offering temporary migrant workers - the majority of whom were fee-paying international students in this country not too long ago - any immediate respite. 

This is indeed an unfortunate but not altogether new situation for the temporary migrant workers, who in absence of definitive voting rights, are often left behind at the first instance. 

Even a government of kindness seems to be not keen to change this predicament anytime soon.