The sad, sick joke of who we’ve allowed into New Zealand during the pandemic

  • Some government decisions on who is allowed to come to New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic are a sad, sick joke, says Ankur Sabharwal, licensed immigration adviser

OPINION: What a sad, sick joke it has become where foreigners watching the America’s Cup can be approved entry as ‘critical workers’ during the Covid-19 pandemic while actual critical workers are being refused.

Stuff has revealed that more than 1000 people from overseas have been invited as ‘critical workers’ associated with the event, including representatives of more than 200 team sponsors and suppliers.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) explains that these non-workers are being approved as ‘critical workers’ because they fit within the rules INZ has to follow.

This is nonsense. The rules say that an ‘other critical worker’ may be someone who is undertaking a time-critical role on a government-approved event – the America’s Cup is listed as a government-approved event.

The rules also say: ‘For the absence of doubt, co-owners of America’s Cup syndicates may be considered other critical workers’ under the above definition.

How did that rule get extended to representatives of team sponsors and suppliers?

INZ is talking rubbish

INZ is talking rubbish when it says it has “no discretion” in how to assess requests. Legally, it does.

How could INZ assess the Australian children’s music group The Wiggles as having ‘unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not readily obtainable in New Zealand’ (the rules that they had to meet to be approved entry as ‘other critical workers’)?

Meanwhile, people with skills that are actually unique and not readily obtainable are being refused entry because INZ decides they don’t meet this rule.

These include a first aid expert in mass casualty events like terrorist attacks coming to give training to the New Zealand Defence Force, and a horticulture expert for a large New Zealand plant business with greenhouses three times the size of Wellington Stadium.

I myself dealt with a ‘critical worker’ request for a worker who wanted to come to New Zealand to maintain a unique piece of equipment that prevents asbestos dust being released into the atmosphere. Evidence was provided showing that no New Zealanders with knowledge of this filtration equipment were available to do the job, but INZ turned down the request, saying that there were plenty of asbestos removal companies here which could handle it.

Will INZ take any responsibility if this asbestos filtration equipment fails through lack of maintenance? I doubt it.

The suffering of our critical workers

An equally scandalous situation exists for the families of critical workers in New Zealand who were unlucky enough to be outside the country when the border closed in March 2020.

Now, 12 months later, some doctors and nurses who are protecting our health during the pandemic are still separated from their families overseas who don’t meet the government’s criteria to be granted a border exemption.

If it’s okay for the government to relax its border exemption rules to allow the entry of 98 per cent of people requesting entry to ‘work’ on the America’s Cup, why can’t it do the same to allow a few hundred family members of critical health workers to join them here?

National MP Erica Stanford asked a series of pointed questions on this topic in Parliament last week.

If we value the work that healthcare workers are doing in New Zealand, and we want them to stay here at a time of critical shortage – Stanford quoted 2000 more healthcare workers needed to give Covid-19 vaccinations – why aren’t we allowing their spouses and children to join them?

Frontline healthcare workers, who may be risking their lives doing their job during a pandemic, need and deserve the support of their immediate families. Yet the government has done nothing to allow their family members to join them, despite knowing about the problem for the past year.

Government must act

The Minister of Immigration has acknowledged the problem, but so far has done nothing to fix it.

Considering the contribution frontline healthcare workers are making, the Minister should be approving residence for them and their families, rather than worrying about how many managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) places their families might take up if they are allowed entry.

After all, if the government can find MIQ places for America’s Cup spectators and The Wiggles, surely they can find them for the spouses and children of our critical workers?

The whole border exemption mess stinks of favouritism and unfairness, in my humble opinion.

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