New Zealand has always been a dream country for people who wish to migrate. But is that dream beginning to turn sour for many? Indian Weekender speaks to a cross section of Kiwis to find out what they think... 

The reputation of New Zealand, as being a clean, green and welcoming country with a great education system, is under threat due to its current immigration policies including the closure of residence programme and the strict border closure coupled with the concerns with Managed Isolation and Quarantine system. 

Be it students, business owners, tourists or skilled workers, recent immigration policies and border restrictions are deterring an increasing number of people from coming to New Zealand.

Sharing her views, National Party immigration spokesperson Erica Stanford, says, “Over several decades New Zealand had a wonderful reputation of this beautiful, safe lovely country that people would love to come to and had the capacity of attracting highly skilled people. 

“But that reputation has now been completely destroyed because of this Government's anti-immigration policy wherein there is no pathway to residence for anyone entering New Zealand. Even for those who are in the queue, there is a wait for two-three years.  It is not attractive for the people who are already here and is certainly putting off potentially highly skilled migrants or students to come to New Zealand due to the uncertainty, and that's why they are moving to other countries. It will be difficult to attract them now since the reputation has got tarnished." 

A spokesperson from Grounded Kiwis, a network of Kiwis at home and abroad seeking to change the MIQ system, says, “The MIQ system has created a huge limitation for Kiwis living at home and abroad. Our group is contacted daily by families who are separated across borders, individuals who need to leave New Zealand to care for or farewell sick relatives overseas but can't do so for fear they won't be able to get back in, and individuals stuck overseas in desperate situations who can't get home. 

“We are one of the few countries in the world to stop its citizens from returning, even when they are jobless, homeless, separated from family, and at risk of overstaying illegally. Speaking to people overseas, they cannot believe that New Zealand, a country they admire for its kindness, is treating its citizens in this way.  We have started a petition to seek changes, and are calling on all individuals and families impacted by MIQ to sign. 

“It is extremely tough, nearly impossible, to enter New Zealand at the moment, and for many individuals, this means they have no other option than to go elsewhere, despite the fact they may have family, friends, and a job or study awaiting them in New Zealand. In addition, since many other countries around the world are almost 'back to normal' and travel is becoming an option again, people are hesitant about moving to New Zealand for fear of living in a place with ongoing lockdowns and no ability to travel in and out.”

New Zealand has always been an attractive destination for international students due to the education system it has to offer. However, this reputation has also got damaged. Vikashni, a New Zealand citizen, who is studying for a PhD and also working as a university teaching assistant, says, “Our universities are highly dependent on overseas students and the MIQ constraints, that make it impossible for overseas students to come to NZ, have resulted in significant budget cuts. Unless we quickly move to open our borders, it is my view that the current policies will have long term damage for the reputation of New Zealand as an education destination."

Migrant Sanjay Sharma, says, "I have been living in NZ for six years, but I have never seen the image of New Zealand going so down. No one wants to come here especially high skilled people and students because of unfavourable immigration policies and uncertainty of their future. 

“This government seems to be mean and not thinking about migrants. I tried convincing my brother, who is an IT professional, to move to New Zealand, but he decided to move to Canada as he feels the immigration policies are favourable for migrants there, and his future will be safe there."

Immigration experts, too, think that the global image of New Zealand has got adversely impacted.

Immigration Law Specialist Alastair McClymont says, “Initially, New Zealand gained a lot of favourable media attention around the world for our elimination strategy, but the gradual re-opening of normal life in most other countries whilst New Zealand languishes near the bottom of the world in vaccination rates, and the pursuit of an elimination strategy which has increasingly become unsustainable in the eyes of the world media, is now drawing international attention to failings in the government strategy. 

“The government's focus on the Team of 5 million has done much to alienate the 1 million Kiwis who live and work offshore. These 1 million now feel increasing forgotten, and dismissed, with the failings in the MIQ system, and their inability to return home, a fundamental human and civil right enshrined in international law.”

He further adds, “In conjunction with this, New Zealand’s labour shortages and strong anti-migrant government policies are discouraging many skilled migrants from consideration of New Zealand as a destination for migration. New Zealand's low international pay rates contribute to our inability to fill the demand for skilled workers.” 

Immigration lawyer Aaron Martin says, “A collateral damage is occurring to New Zealand’s global image. I regularly speak with medical professionals in other countries, including UK and Europe, and they are honestly dismayed at how we are handling the border restrictions. 

“The disappointment is because we haven't got our act together as a country. The perception is that we set back basking in our government’s glory, but our government hasn't done anything with the time they had on their times - for example - they did not increase ICU beds or expanded MIQ facility.  Moreover, the vaccine rollout has been so slow. The government t could have done better.

“People don't want to come to New Zealand when there is no pathway to residence. High skilled professionals – be it in healthcare, construction or IT – don't feel NZ needs skills as it doesn't have a functional residence programme. Why, on the earth, we are not doing anything to attract high skilled workers? Globally it seems, New Zealand didn’t close the border because of the Covid pandemic but because it doesn’t want foreigners here.” 

However, immigration adviser and former immigration minister Tuariki Delamere is cautiously hopeful. Though he acknowledges the management of immigration by the Government has been appalling, he says it is unlikely to have any long term lasting adverse impact on New Zealand's global image or reputation.

“My biggest criticism of this Government is that they have their priorities very wrong when it comes to who they allow travelling to New Zealand under the covid-19 critical purpose criteria.  I believe it is immoral and unethical for the Government to allow in non-critical people like the Wiggles, like The Lion King performers, rich billionaires with yachts and servants, international sports teams, and claiming these people are more important and have greater priority than, for example, reuniting families of persons working in New Zealand as skilled workers. Frankly, that attitude is disgusting. Having said that, when we do open our borders, there will almost certainly be no shortage of persons wanting to migrate to New Zealand."

Moving forward, it seems a lot needs to be done by this Government to restore the damage done to New Zealand's global image.

“We need to restore our international reputation by opening EOIs pool and fast-tracking of all residence applications that are in the queue. I also recommend that all people on ESW should have a pathway to residence. We have the biggest labour shortage, and we need them here right now. We need to make sure they stay here rather than going to other countries like Canada or UK. MIQ is a complete mess. There should be increased spaces. We need to gear up," signs off Erica.