New Zealand / Covid 19

Immigrants shut out while moving to NZ say border exemptions 'a mystery'

08:35 am on 4 August 2020

Since our borders shut there have been more than 28,000 applications for a border exemption to enter the country, but only just over 2400 have arrived here.

Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

People unable to get here due to the flight-freeze are becoming desperate.

In South Africa alone there are more than 200 people living in limbo - trying to get to family they already have in New Zealand.

Michelle E-Sousa and her family were in the middle of emigrating to New Zealand - she came over to set up first but then the borders shut.

Her husband and two children have border exemptions - but because they're only valid for three months they don't know if they will get to use it.

"We've been given permission to travel but we're working against the clock, unfortunately with Air New Zealand putting a hold on their flights that clock has just stopped for a period of time for New Zealand but not for us."

E-Sousa is part of a Facebook group with people in the same situation - she believes there are about 200 families who have been separated.

There is a need for a repatriation flight she said.

"I think it's more a matter of the unknown, we don't know when we will be back together again.

"It's scary, I speak to my kids on the phone every day and they ask me what is happening but I can't give them an answer," E-Sousa said.

Vernon Hodge is stuck in Johannesburg with his wife and 16-month old daughter.

They were emigrating here and his wife had accepted an offer to work as a clinical physiologist in Auckland.

"It's unbelievably difficult to get any good information, we feel very isolated from the New Zealand side so we are relying on Facebook groups with people in the same situation."

With no flights coming into New Zealand - we don't know where we stand, he said.

"We don't understand in terms of us getting out, I spoke to a travel agent who said there are four flights leaving Johannesburg to Dubai at the beginning of August but there's obviously no connecting flight to Auckland or even Australia.

"Even if we could come that way we would need to get transit visas and then get flights to New Zealand."

Hodge said if the government advised exemptions would be extended it would be a weight off his mind.

"It just feels like everything is against us, we have been saving for years to make the move to New Zealand for a better life and now we are living in fear - we don't know how long my wife's job can be held while we try to get into the country."

Michelle Els moved to Christchurch in February to take up a job as an accountant - the plan was for her husband and two young children to come after she settled.

But then the borders shut - so she hasn't seen six-year-old, Layla, and four-year-old Blake in nearly six months.

"There's good days and bad days, it's really tough."

Els has applied for border exemptions for her family but has been declined three times.

She understands the situation and is happy to pay the quarantine costs but would just like some timeframes.

"There's no timeline, there's no planning everything is just a mystery. At least give us the comfort to know that we have an exemption but it's attached to a timeline or a waiting list then at least it would be a systematic process.

"At the moment it just feels like there is nothing."

Immigration New Zealand acknowledged it was a difficult and challenging situation for these individuals and their families.

In a statement, it said the border was our best protection in our fight against Covid-19, which is why the border remained closed to all but New Zealand citizens and residents.

"Protecting public health is paramount and the bar for being granted an exception to the border restrictions is set high to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of people already in New Zealand.

"All individual requests for exceptions to the border restrictions are considered against the strict criteria set out in immigration instructions."

As of 30 July, INZ had received 28,081 applications for border exceptions and of those 5763 have resulted in an invitation to apply for a visa.

Individuals can apply more than once for a border exception, so the Border exception Expression of Interest requests received could include multiple requests from the same person.

There were 4704 Critical Purpose requests approved, and 2424 of those people are now in New Zealand. There were 349 South Africans who were granted a Critical Purpose visa, and 131 of them are in New Zealand.

Immigration said if the exemptions expired people could apply again.