New Zealand United Voice – a collective of some 160 registered NZ organisations – which brings together views of most of the ethnic migrant communities in the country, has slammed the government’s decision to not extend visas of temporary migrant workers locked out of NZ borders since the past two years.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi told the Indian Weekender on January 19 that the government has no plans to extend visas of the temporary migrant workers currently offshore.

“There are no plans to extend the temporary visas of migrants currently offshore because of Covid border restrictions,” Minister Faafoi had then said.

In contrast, on the very same day, the Australian government announced an extension of visas for the same category of temporary migrant workers who were also locked out of their borders which were also closed as an immediate response to the then-novel Coronavirus.

The news has expectedly dashed hopes of a large number of temporary migrant workers who have been holding a long rope of hope, believing in the current government’s narrative around kindness, and have irked many ethnic migrant community leaders, who are seeing it as a complete turn-around of the government’s publicly stated position on this emotive issue.

Notably, the government ministers have repeatedly been assuring the community leaders and migrant advocates every time the issue was raised with them in private settings or community events in the past two years.

However, the Immigration Minister’s nonchalant snub of this important category of migrant workers who have been living and working in the country for past many years has not gone down well with many migrant community leaders.

‘This is not right,’ say many migrant leaders

Jeet Sachdev, Convenor of NZ United Voice group, told the Indian Weekender that this was not the outcome we were expecting after two years of continuous advocacy for a small minority of migrant workers who were heavily invested in the dream of the Kiwi life in NZ.

Jeet Suchdev, Convenor, NZ United Voice

“No one is asking the government to open the borders for them right now, but only consider extending their visas when the border is opened for everyone, purely because these people have invested their family’s life-savings or borrowed tens of thousands of dollars to build a life in NZ.”

“They should be getting a fair chance to complete their visa terms as it was not their fault that they were caught on the wrong sides of the closed borders,” Mr Suchdev said.

Daljit Singh, spokesperson of Supreme Sikh Society of New Zealand (Takanini Gurudwara), echoing the sentiments of fairness said, “I acknowledge the government’s motive to ensure the safety of the country as a whole; however, a fair resolution should be offered to the migrants, either in the form of an assurance for their return or at least extension of their current visas until their return safely to NZ.”

Daljit Singh

Krish Nadu, President of Fiji-Girmit Foundation of NZ said, “Many migrants have emotional, economic and cultural ties with NZ and they have contributed towards the development of NZ at many levels. There are migrants who are experiencing poor mental health together with family and friends who are closely connected to them.”

Krish Naidu 

“We have a moral responsibility to be fair and equitable to them,” Naidu added.

‘NZ will need migrant workers soon’

Many community leaders also criticised the government for acting in haste, short-sightedness, and not acting in NZ’s long-term interest.

Dr Primla Khar, President, Indian Association of Manukau NZ (IAMNZ) said, “We need to remember there is life after Covid, and NZ will soon need migrant workers.

“Rather than trying to entice migrant workers from India later when we will open our borders and need our economy to pump up, we should not miss the present opportunity.

Dr Primla Khar, President, Indian Association of manukau New Zealand 

“These people have already gone through the vetting process and been accepted by our robust immigration services. They have the skills that were required in NZ not so long ago and would be required in the near future again.

“A visionary approach would be to facilitate the return of these migrant workers immediately. We can’t shut ourselves to the world for long,” Dr Khar said

Ghouse Majeed, General Secretary MATA – NZ, said, “It’s not fair on the part of the government to adopt a punitive approach towards the temporary migrant workers stuck overseas without any mistake when the country is facing an acute shortage of workers.

“It should not be forgotten that the temporary migrant workers have contributed to our nation’s economy by paying thousands of dollars as course fee (post-study work visa holders) and still contributing to nation’s economy by paying PAYE,” Mr Majeed said.

Govt causing division within migrant workers

Many community leaders have taken exception to the contrast in some of the latest decisions by the government within the immigration sector, which is probably reflecting a seemingly devious approach between the onshore-based temporary migrant workers and those stuck offshore.

“Notedly, the government has offered Resident Visa 2021 to at least 165,000 temporary migrant workers onshore and more. So, leaving a small but highly vulnerable and desperate category of temporary migrant workers stuck overseas (few thousands) is not a prudent step,” Jaspreet Singh Kandhari of NZ United Voice said.

“The government’s decision of keeping these temporary migrants out of the NZ borders will have long-term repercussions as it will shake the trust of ethnic communities in the government and justice system of the country,” Mr Kandhari added.

Migrants and immigrant sector are partner; not the ‘other’ in govt’s Covid response

Many community leaders representing NZ United Voice that the Indian Weekender had spoken with for this story seemed to concur that there a dysfunction within the immigration sector, particularly in the govt’s view towards the immigration sector as a partner, and not the ‘other,’ in its current Covid response.

The public perception that is being created right from the very beginning was that the government was trying to protect citizens by not allowing temporary migrants to return to the country. This is completely wrong,” Jeet Suchdev said.

“We are in the middle of a global pandemic crisis, and our health system is facing an extreme shortage of skilled health professionals, whereas there are thousands of migrant doctors who have trained and practised overseas and are forced to drive taxies and do odd-jobs as they face unreasonable road-blocks for their employment within NZ’s health sector.

“The government should at least use them (NZREX doctors) as part of surge capacity for ICU beds in preparation of the upcoming Omicron wave in the country,” Mr Sachdev said.

Highlighting other dysfunction within the sector, Ikhlaq Kashkari, President, NZ Muslim Association, said, “I am in discussion on a number of immigration-related issues with INZ and the minister, including people on work permits have not been able to travel to their home countries for the death of their family member, their own weddings or any special family events, and where they have to travel in an emergency remains locked out of the country.

Iklaq Kashkari, President New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA) 

“We have written to the Minister of Immigration and asked him to address this issue. So far we have no progress on this issue,” Mr Kashkari said.

Some community spokespersons, who were not as critical as others, and believed that the government was within its right to act in any manner that it believes was the right thing to do to ensure safety of its citizens, were also of the view that the government should reconsider its decision to not extend visas of temporary migrant workers stuck overseas.

Prashant Belwalkar, Migrant Heritage Charitable Trust said, “The government should reconsider based on individual circumstances, type of industry and the need of such workforce in the country.

“Any solution should be well thought – pandemic period including – about what the future holds and how will this decision impact the immigration landscape of NZ in the coming 5-10 years.”

 

Public Interest Journalism Funded through NZ on Air