OPINION: When New Zealand’s borders reopen next year, whom should we let in first?
How we answer that will reflect New Zealand’s priorities and values as a nation.
Since our border closed on 20 March, the government has only admitted New Zealand citizens, residents, and people coming for a ‘critical purpose’ – including critical health workers, other critical workers, partners and dependent children of New Zealanders, and people who have humanitarian reasons to travel here.
Kiwis have had first dibs on quarantine facilities, so the number of temporary entrants has necessarily been restricted.
The government’s focus now is probably on rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine once it becomes available, and not on opening additional Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities. It seems unlikely that large numbers of migrants will be allowed back until the pandemic is over.
Predicting the future
Let’s anticipate that – beginning sometime next year – people won’t need to be quarantined, either because they’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19, or because they tested negative before they boarded a plane to New Zealand. Ideally, both.
So, who gets to board the plane first?
I predict that sometime in 2021, New Zealand will reinstate visa-free travel for tourists and visitors from countries including Australia, the US, Japan, South Korea and most of Europe.
Around the same time, Covid-free students will be allowed back in, as will young people from any of 45 countries who hold working holiday visas.
Whom we let back first says who we are as a nation: Ankur Sabharwal, owner of immigration advisory Visa Matters.
The group left out in the cold
However, I expect the government will be slower to decide what to do about people overseas who either hold New Zealand temporary visas that have expired since the border was closed, or who no longer meet the conditions of their visas.
Thousands of people holding valid visitor, student and work visas have been excluded from New Zealand since March 2020, because they lack a ‘critical purpose’ to return here.
They were unlucky enough to be on holiday or visiting friends and family overseas when our border closed, suddenly shutting them off from their jobs, their homes, and sometimes even their families.
People holding valid work visas lost their jobs because they were not able to return to them. I know some who are still paying rent on houses in New Zealand, their lives in limbo, their belongings and even families out of reach.
It would show good faith if we approved visas for our friends stuck overseas as early as possible.
Until recently they were our neighbours, and Covid-19 restrictions hit them particularly hard.
For the sake of fairness, they should be among the first to return.
Let’s let them pick up the pieces of their lives, find new jobs, or even just tidy up their affairs.
These are the simple demands of the Migrant Rights Network, which will be rallying in Auckland on Saturday, 19 December for the rights of people excluded from New Zealand due to the pandemic.
Sher Singh, president of the Migrant Rights Network, tells me that the government engaged with them prior to the election in October, but since then they have stopped communicating about migrants stuck offshore.
People holding visitor, student or work visas benefit New Zealand with their money, knowledge and skills. That’s why they were issued visas in the first place.
Let’s show our famous Kiwi fairness and allow them back in, as soon as it is safe to do so.