The news that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asked Immigration Minister to consider 'anything more we can do' to reunite critical migrant health workers with families is causing more pain among wider temporary migrant workers, despite getting the much needed public attention to a cause that till now they so naively believed was a collective cause for all of them.
Clearly, that is not the case for New Zealand's mainstream media and politicians alike, who continue to handpick some over the other, thereby keeping the public narrative around temporary migrants and immigration in general distorted and contorted forever.
This is the latest instance where some temporary migrant workers have been portrayed as more desirable in New Zealand's public imagery, hence prioritised over others facing the same level of discrimination within the immigration system.
The manner in which the cause of temporary migrant workers in healthcare was purported to be prioritised, seemingly above every other temporary migrant worker working in sectors such as restaurants, cafes, supermarkets, transport, courier, farms, dairies and many others, who have first and foremost come to this country on legitimate visas and deserves equitable and just treatment from the immigration system – is neither right nor good look for New Zealand.
The ability to choose one's life partner and live with them together is a basic human right that no modern country or government should deny or dictate upon its individuals – citizens, residents, or temporary migrants
Immigration Adviser and noted Community law expert Katy Armstrong is calling this a humanitarian issue that needs urgent intervention from the govt.
However, Immigration New Zealand's arbitrary interpretation of the "living together" requirement for partnership visas, especially for relationships based on Indian marriages, have made the lives of Kiwi-Indian migrants miserable in the last few years.
This was before Covid-19 – when many members of the community were forced to leave their jobs and businesses onshore and travel overseas and live for long times to fulfil what is an outdated and mono-cultural definition of "partnership" for visa purposes.
This has further exacerbated after Covid-19 – which has literally disenfranchised the temporary migrants (open work visa, post-study work visa, essential skill work visa and student visa holders) from the possibility of even travelling overseas and try their luck to meet immigration NZ's expectations and bring their partner into the country.
Manpreet Mannu, currently on an essential skill work visa, had been married for four years and, to date, not been able to celebrate even one marriage anniversary together with his wife – courtesy of Immigration NZ's partnership visa bungles, followed by Covid border closure.
"I am 30-year-old, first arrived in this country seven years ago in 2014 on a student visa to study a Level 7 course and been on different work visas since then."
"I have given seven valuable years of my life to this country, along with international education fees and contributing through my skills, and this is what I have got in return," Manpreet said frustratingly.
"I got married in 2017 and applied for my wife's visa at the beginning of 2018. First, her visa was caught up in long partnership visa processing queues and declined in 2019. Later we filed her visa again, which was approved after a long struggle.
"However, before she could eventually travel in March 2020, New Zealand borders were closed, and now her visa has expired."
"I keep an eye on the news every day in the hope that there will be some compassion and kindness for us work visa holders, and we could also bring our partners and families," Manpreet said.
Dhairyakant Sharma has not seen his newborn daughter for the last 19 months
Dhairya Kant Sharma is on a post-study work visa after having completed level 8 study in New Zealand and currently working as Chemistry Analyst in a reputed firm in Canterbury.
His pain is that he has not seen his wife and newly born baby for the last 19 months and the family is losing a sense of hope with no clear government plan insight to allow them to reunite in New Zealand anytime soon.
"I am feeling extremely helpless with no hope in sight as the government refuses to take any compassionate action and allow us to unite with our families," Dhairya Kant said.
"It is a very depressive feeling to be living in a foreign land like a second-class citizen with no remedy or relief available for the transgression of basic human rights," Dhairya said.
Immigration adviser and community law expert Katy Armstrong says that the "separated families of migrants" is part of the larger humanitarian issue on how migrants have been treated by successive governments in this country.
"This is about sorting a humanitarian issue that began a year ago and had become acute through lack of planning.
"This government, in my view, has a duty not only to returning Kiwis but to all migrants facing separation because of border-closure," Katy said.
When asked about the recent public attention on the plight of separated families of temporary migrants working in health care following PM's interview on Saturday, Katy said, "we see a shaping of public opinion where convenient for the government."
"We would rather call out the government to account for ALL victims of border policy in a fair and rational manner," Katy said.
This is a completely different picturisation of temporary migrant workers (and their respective pains emanating from inconsistent immigration approach) in public imagery in comparison to the time of last year's national lockdown under Alert Level 4 when temporary migrants were exalted in mainstream media's narrative for working as frontline workers in essential services.