A protest was held in New Delhi on Tuesday, November 17, by a group of temporary migrants who were ordinarily residents of New Zealand and have been locked out of the country for the last eight months - despite having legitimate visas. 

About seventy to a hundred-strong group of temporary visa holders of New Zealand had defied severe inter-state travel restrictions currently in place in India to gather together in New Delhi as a part of an organised protest against what they perceive as a gross injustice by the NZ government for not only denying them entry into the country but also not keeping any lines of communication open. 

Around tens of thousands of temporary migrants who were ordinarily resident of New Zealand and have made huge financial and emotional investments here - currently remain locked out of the country since last eight months - when the government decided to close the borders to prevent the spread of Covid in the country. 

At the stroke of dusk on March 19, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had announced the government’s decision to close the borders for everyone - except citizens and residents - leaving tens of thousands of temporary visa holders who were then innocuously travelling overseas – almost clueless. 

Now they seem to have become desperate and hopeless. 

This was very much on display when the Indian Weekender spoke with many protesting temporary visa holders from New Delhi who were struggling to control their emotions that varied from frustration to desperation to utter shock. 

“This is ridiculous that NZ government continues to deny us entry into the country despite our legitimate visas,” Chaitanya Padukone, one of the temporary visa holders participating in the protest asked exasperatingly. 

He told the Indian Weekender that he holds the post-study work visa that is valid until 2022 and his employer was holding his job (without pay) at least till now, so meeting all his visa conditions. Yet, the government had chosen not to act, either expeditiously, or judiciously.  

The sentiments were widely shared by many others who spoke with the Indian Weekender from the protest. 

“It comes as a shock to me that how can a modern advanced developed country like New Zealand actually do something like this – dishonouring legitimate visas issued by its own government,” Sameer Jaiswal, who has been in the country for the last four years and was on an open work visa at the time of border closure. 

Pritesh Sabharwal, speaking on behalf of many others present at the protest told the Indian Weekender that most of them have taken huge financial loans to finance their international studies in NZ and were on the so-called “pathway to residency” progressing on different types of work visas. 

Notably, for years, Education New Zealand has marketed NZ’s export education as a pathway to residency, which had resulted in an increase in the number of international students in recent years, particularly from India. 

Now many who had arrived in the country following the same glorious advertisement of NZ’s export education, as a stable and advanced economy destination have been locked out of borders for no fault of theirs.  

“We had a life over there for which we have worked very hard and made huge investments. We continue to pay our financial dues like a rent phone bill, car loan, insurances, despite being kept out of the country and without any jobs and livelihoods.” 

“We already had student loans in the range of $20-30,000 for our international education in NZ and that financial debt is further rising with each passing day while we are being denied to return back to the country,” Sabharwal said. 

Frustration against government’s glorious silence on the fate of temporary visa holders 

One of the biggest pain experienced by temporary migrants stuck overseas was that on the one hand their legitimate visas were dishonoured by denying them entry into the country then simultaneously, on the other hand, there was no clear communication from the government. 

“Why is the government not telling us anything clearly,” Nidhi Kaushal, another visa holder locked out of the country asked exasperatingly. 

“Nine months is a big time for me to pay thousands of dollars every month just to maintain my home, car and phones in New Zealand,” Nidhi Kaushal said clearly struggling to hold back her tears. 

Kaushal was on a short trip overseas to visit her father, who was hospitalised and had put an application with Immigration New Zealand for extension of her work visa when borders were closed behind her. Since then, INZ has stopped responding to her emails. 

Immigration New Zealand has announced that given that border is still closed to everyone, but New Zealand citizens and residents visa processing for offshore applicants is still on hold. 

The only decision that the government has taken so far to ameliorate the plight of temporary migrants who were ordinary residents of NZ and are now stuck overseas (other than for some minuscule category of partnership visas) was on critical workers border exception and new border exception for normally resident work visa holders. 

Under the latter category, the government had announced on September 9, those on work visas (only essential skill & work to residence visas) with still their jobs intact could return back in the country. 

The government had envisaged that around 850 work visa holders would qualify to return to the country. 

However, notably, to date, a majority of all those possible 850 eligible work visa holders have not been able to enter NZ and stuck in bureaucratic processes of Immigration NZ. 

Call for urgent affirmative action

The group of protestors were denied the permission by the local Indian authorities to protest right outside NZ High Commission in New Delhi amidst Covid related restrictions and had therefore chosen another iconic place known as Jantar Mantar. 

Later, few representatives of the protestors were escorted to the office of the NZ High Commission where they were able to hand-in in a memorandum of request to the government for showing compassion and kindness to the temporary migrants stuck overseas. The memorandum was received by security staff at the office of the High Commission.

Speaking to the Indian Weekender, Jagdeep Dhillon, one of the organisers of the protest, who is also locked out of the country along with his wife and NZ born child, concluded, “This protest was a way to remind the NZ government that the lives of thousands of temporary migrants who had their lives in NZ are on the verge of complete destruction unless there was an immediate, compassionate action by the government.”