The New Zealand government’s decision of eventual resumption of international travel in a staged manner from early next year has expectedly created more anxiety than certainty for temporary migrants (visa holders).

Here is an explainer of what this latest announcement by Minister of Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins on Wednesday, November 24, means to different categories of temporary visa holders.

Let’s understand who are temporary migrants in the context of this story

Generally, the term temp migrants has been used as a sweeping term to cover all foreign nationals with a valid New Zealand visa living, working, studying, visiting, or planning to do any of these activities in the country.

However, after the NZ government’s historic decision of border-closure on March 28, 2020, then new words have emerged to describe the situation of people.

According to very early estimates last year, around tens of thousands of temporary migrants (with valid NZ visas) were caught on the wrong side of border closure and have been since then locked out of NZ borders. They have been loosely defined as “temporary migrants stuck overseas,” or “temporary migrants ordinarily resident of NZ and stuck overseas.”

The other category is of the remaining temporary visa holders who were living onshore when the Covid pandemic began and have since then continued to live, work and hope to work towards their residency under different available options, despite all roadblocks and delays in Immigration NZ visa processing. They are continued to be categorized as “temporary migrants.”

Clearly, the situation of the former is more desperate than the latter, in terms of pursuing their dream of living in NZ permanently yet both categories of temporary migrants are equally desperate with the closed borders and international travel restrictions.

Thousands of temporary migrants living onshore also have to bear the pain of not having the ability to return back to NZ, if they have to choose to travel overseas for any family emergency or important life events.

Therefore, it is completely natural that this category of temporary migrants, along with those stuck overseas for the last eighteen months, can also find solace and excitement from Wednesday’s decision by Minister Chris Hipkins.

Was the latest announcement primarily directed toward ‘temporary migrants’?

Despite the notable excitement evident on social media groups of temporary migrants of all strips (stuck overseas and currently onshore), it is pertinent to understand that this latest announcement of reconnecting NZ to the rest of the world was NOT directed toward temporary migrants.

The announcement was primarily directed toward NZ citizens, residents, and permanent residents.

The case in point that there was only one reference to visa holders in Step – 3, which talks about opening to fully vaccinated foreign nationals (possibly staged by visa category), from April 30 onwards – and the word “possibly” clearly reveals the government’s state of thinking on temporary migrants of any stripe.

It means there is no firm commitment from the government for visa holders (previously or currently held and any future visa holders).

It remains up in the air.

Moreover, Minister Chris Hipkins was quoted somewhere else, in a different context though, that nothing about Wednesday’s decision was written on stone yet, and the government will continue to keep thinking and evolving their decisions based on broader Covid management.

So, the point is that the announcement was primarily meant for citizens and residents only, and it will be advisable for all categories of temporary migrants to take the information with a bit of caution.

The decision was more focused on the MIQ system than on ‘border control’

A lot of excitement has been noted on several social media groups of temporary migrants who seem to be misunderstanding the decision as a decision on the removal of “border control.”

It is to be reminded to all temporary migrants that this decision was about getting rid of the MIQ system progressively and allowing Kiwi citizens (including Kiwis living overseas) the opportunity to unrestricted travel.

To put it the other way, the main issue for temporary migrants is of “border closure,” which prohibits them from entering NZ. The issue of MIQ is more of inconvenience, stress, and cost-escalation.

You all will note that hundreds of temporary migrants (particularly newly granted partnership visas with exceptions to enter NZ) have been able to enter NZ when they have been lucky to find a place in MIQs.

However, those temporary migrants who had a valid visa but do not have a critical purpose to enter NZ under the currently closed border regime are not allowed to enter NZ – even if they can find a place and pay for MIQ.

It is therefore advisable for all temporary migrants making plans of traveling overseas for long-pending family reunions or attending postponed life events such as marriage, etc after April 30, based on this latest announcement, to be extra careful and not leave shores in haste.

I am a temp visa holder can I fly out and return back after April 30 without MIQ?

The answer to this question is that no one knows with absolute certainty.

MIQ might not be a problem for you, but borders will certainly remain closed for you unless there comes a new and clear announcement from the government about border closure.

All other subsidiary questions related to this, such as I have applied for a Skilled Migrant Category Visa (Resident Visa) and will I lose my place in the queue, are meaningless – because since you will not be allowed to return back onshore, the Immigration New Zealand will stop processing your visa application as per current visa processing regime.