11 Oct 2021

The government 'has ignored us': Those excluded from residency fast-track speak out

From Voices, 5:00 am on 11 October 2021

For Devdeep Singh, the government's announcement of a new fast-track residency visa came just in time.

"I was almost gone to Canada" said the 27-year-old, who has been in New Zealand since 2016 on a temporary basis.

But others - even some with skills New Zealand desperately needs - have been excluded from the policy reset and for them, it is another bitter blow.

Residence visa application form

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

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"There was no opportunity, no hope for us. And all of a sudden we got hope overnight" said Singh, who has been working in New Zealand after studying IT in Christchurch on a scholarship.

"I work with a company in Christchurch and we support people with intellectual physical disabilities, Huntington's disease, and even kids."

He is one of the beneficiaries of a new one-off '2021 residency visa' that allows migrants on most temporary work-related visas to win New Zealand residency.

It is estimated as many as 165,000 migrants can now be fast-tracked, becoming residents by the end of 2022.

That's about 68 percent of temporary migrants currently in the country. For them, the announcement by Immigration New Zealand on 30 September came as a welcome release from uncertainty.

Yet while migrants like Singh can now finally drop roots in New Zealand, thousands of others feel left out, despite meeting several of the criteria. In many cases, they have been caught in study, on the wrong kind of visa.

"The biggest problem at the moment is that those people who've been here five to ten years through no fault of their own, are trying to comply with the system, the immigration requirements, but as a result, now they find themselves not eligible" said Anu Kaloti, Auckland-based migrants rights campaigner and immigration advisor.

Migrants rally in Auckland, June 2021

Migrants rally in Auckland, June 2021 Photo: Bharti Kaloti

One essential healthcare worker, who prefers to keep his name confidential, has been caught in an endless rut of full-time and part-time work and study. But residency still eludes him because right now he's on a study visa, not a work visa.

"I first came here in 2015, studied level 7 courses in health. And then on the basis of that education, I worked for four years in essential healthcare.

"I applied for residency in 2018. But for nearly 22 months, it wasn't decided by Immigration New Zealand. So I decided to withdraw my application."

He then started studying nursing to gain occupational registration, to upskill and be in a better position when he re-applied for residency, while still working full-time. He thought that was what the government wanted to allow him to stay. But now, as a student, he's excluded by the new policy.

Paying international students fees upwards of $20,000 per year and requiring to show a bank balance to support himself, life has been fraught with challenges for him. 

"The government has completely ignored all the hard work and efforts from the last six years. We appeal to them to widen the criteria logically" he said. 

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Amongst the aggrieved is Mauricio Kimura who moved here in 2017 with his family from Brazil to do a PhD at Waikato University in Artificial Intelligence in Law. He and his wife, who is on a partner visa, do not qualify for this residency visa - again, because he is studying.

Mauricio Kimura arrived from Brazil with his young family in 2017 to do his PHd at Waikato University

Mauricio Kimura arrived from Brazil with his young family in 2017 to do his PHd at Waikato University Photo: Supplied

"As PhDs, we got different visas that are different from Masters, Bachelors, because it allows us to work unlimited hours, there is no limit whatsoever. Doing research doesn't look like working, but researching is also working full time. Some universities employ PhDs, they give them employment contracts. But it's still not a qualification to provide us a visa," Kimura said. 

"People have sacrificed a lot from money to emotional investment to their time and to being essential workers and frontline workers in lockdown.

"While this is a partial victory, you know, our work continues, the campaign continues to try and get inclusion for people who've been left out. Migrant workers are part of the fabric of our society," Anu Kaloti of Migrant Workers Association Aotearoa, said.