Listen, acknowledge, empathise, and then move-on, seems to be the govt’s only strategy on temporary migrant workers stranded overseas.
This has been the case for the last five months ever since the borders were closed on March 19 to prevent the spread of Covid-19 virus in the country.
At that time it was assumed that the border closure was a temporary measure - at least for all those temporary visa holders who were ordinarily living in New Zealand, in some cases for almost a decade.
It was expected within a large quarter of such temporary migrant workers who were caught overseas at the border-closure, which are tens of thousands in numbers, that they were also part of the team of 5 million New Zealanders and were doing their bit to keep New Zealand safe, by remaining grounded wherever they were stranded.
However, since then despite New Zealand returning back to normalcy under Alert Level 1, the temporary migrants stranded overseas have been left behind as a “forgotten class” and are being offered a mere lip-service of listening, acknowledging, empathising before moving-on and doing nothing to ameliorate their plight.
The government, it seems, is following this strategy meticulously, and unabashedly, at every platform of interaction - leaving everyone - clueless and helpless.
The latest where this lip service was offered again, was in parliament when the National MP Dr Parmjeet Parmar asked Minister for Immigration Kris Faafoi explicitly about the partners & spouses of NZ citizens and residents who have been stranded overseas for months.
Responding to Dr Parmar’s question during a debate in the Estimates Committee on Tuesday, August 4, Minister for Immigration, empathise with their plight and also of other temporary migrant workers who were ordinarily resident in NZ and currently stranded outside our borders.
“The government obviously understands that it is a difficult time for the group of people that the member has discussed,” the Minister started referring to partners of NZ citizens that Dr Parmar has asked in her question to the Minister.
“I think the starting point has to be that our border is the first and best line of defence in order to keep Covid-19 virus out of our communities.”
“Along with the cohort she is talking about, there are groups of temporary visa holders who are ordinarily resident here in NZ but are finding it difficult to come to NZ, but our borders are closed for a reason.
“Amongst managing all of that is the management of managed isolation and quarantine centres that is being undertaken by Hon Megan Woods as the Minister for Housing.
“It will take some time for us to work and stage through every visa category including partners of residents and citizens back into the country,” the Minister told the house.
Sadly, this is not new.
Earlier, the government has hurriedly enacted legislation under the lockdown period that gave special sweeping powers to the Immigration Minister under immigration (covid-19 response) amendment act 2020 to act fast and decisively to make decisions for a large number of people in the same visa category without being bogged down by bureaucratic hurdles.
However, no action has yet been taken even after many months.
Interestingly, the sweeping powers given to Immigration Minister are also for a duration of 12 months starting from the date of enactment May 15, after which those powers will automatically lapse.
Managed Isolation & Quarantine capacity
Simultaneously on the other front of managed isolation and quarantine facility, which is currently running up to its full capacity of around 7000 places, and according to the government is taken up mostly by returning Kiwis and residents, there is not much hope for temporary migrants stranded overseas.
Minister for Housing and In-Charge of Managed Isolation and Quarantine Megan Woods has awkwardly confirmed in her regular press-briefing on July 29 that the government has no plan for extending capacities at those facilities.
As per the daily update on managed isolation and quarantine available on government’s Covid-19 website the total capacity on July 2 was of 6058 people which has increased to total 7100 on August 4.
The government has prepared a forecasting model for seven and fourteen days ahead for the occupancy in MI & Q facilities.
As of August 4, the government’s seven and fourteen days forecast for occupancy is for 6026 and 6505 people against the total available capacity of 7146.
What is the plan for temporary migrants stranded overseas?
It is high time that the government needs to come clean with a clear, definite plan on how it can allow temporary visa holders to come back in sequence and staged manner without compromising the health and safety of New Zealanders.
Make no mistake, that the safety of New Zealanders and NZ is paramount and any compromise with that is unacceptable.
However, equally unacceptable is the fact that the government continues with its “listen, acknowledge, empathise and do nothing and move on” approach on temporary migrant workers.
It has been five months since the borders were closed in March, with another three months from now becoming distracted and unavailable for any meaningful policy execution as the parliament is soon to be adjourned in preparation for upcoming elections and the next government being formed not before October.
To close doors behind someone’s back, unsuspectingly, and that too possibly for good, does not feel right.
In most of the temporary migrants currently stranded overseas the window for a dignified return to restart their lives in NZ is fast closing as they are fast losing jobs for being away for months and also their visas expiring - thus taking away their basic right to come back on shores and engage with the government.