1 May 2020

Work visa holders stuck overseas having 'sleepless nights'

11:16 am on 1 May 2020

Hundreds of work visa holders on overseas trips when the border closed say they are desperate to get back to their jobs and homes in New Zealand.

Zee Pathan and her family

Zee Pathan and her family in January in New Zealand. Photo: Supplied

They are lobbying the government to be allowed back following a spell in quarantine.

DHB administrator Zee Pathan was visiting her sick mother in India and is not allowed back to New Zealand as a work visa holder.

She has been put on unpaid leave, her husband has lost his job and their six-year-old daughter and her teacher work around time zones to manage online learning.

"It's very stressful - to be frank, right now all my expenses in my New Zealand house are an ongoing thing, I'm paying the rent, it's a three-bedroom house I'm paying the rent of nearly $430 a week, I have my other utilities, we have our car insurance.

"Even if I try to cancel my rental I have a whole house set up, what would I do with all my belongings?" she said.

"And I have set up that home with lots of affection. It was our home. My daughter's life is there, she's missing her school, she keeps asking me 'when are we returning back?'. But I don't have any answers to give her."

An Argentinian woman, who asked not to be named, has lived in New Zealand for 12 years but was on holiday in Bali when the travel ban happened. She knows of six people in Bali with a work to residence visa and 350 on social networks who are elsewhere overseas.

"Every case is different but in a nutshell we left the country for a short period of time with return tickets of course and now find ourselves in complete limbo," she said.

"I have my job waiting for me, my daughter will need to resume school at one point. I'm paying rent in Auckland and left all my belongings there."

Immigrants overseas do not receive the wage subsidy and, unless allowed an exemption, have not been able to enter the country since travel restrictions were introduced almost six weeks ago.

They include people who face not being allowed back into the country because they have since been made redundant.

Some of those affected had a Zoom call with Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway, but Pathan said he was not able to commit to a course of action while policy was still being discussed.

Store manager Simran Kaur is locked out of New Zealand after five years here.

"I have an open work visa valid till 8 May 2020," she said. "I did lots of struggle and efforts, I really don't want to lose my job as it will be a big loss for me and my family.

"I lost my father when I was only four, my mum raised me alone, she spent a lot of money on me to get a better future."

Brothers Jitender and Navraj Singh had been eligible for residence but that application and their work visas depend on their jobs.

"We have already got a notice from our employer that we'll be terminated if we don't return to NZ by a certain date which is definitely out of our hands," Jitender said.

"We both will be unemployed [at the] same time and our belongings will be thrown away. My residency application is with INZ but what will it mean if the job that is the basis of this application is not there?

"It feels like a nightmare to see everything slipping off your hands ... that you earned after all the hard work and your career coming to a full stop. It is so depressing that we are spending sleepless nights.

"NZ borders are closed for only for the temporary visa holders which I find bit unfair because the virus doesn't check our visa status that if you are on a resident visa then you have [an] exemption from infections. The border restrictions and the remedies should be the same for everyone."

In a statement, INZ said it had processed 5500 requests for exemptions to the border restriction.

"The government's current border restrictions mean that people on temporary visas who are currently offshore are not able to come back to New Zealand unless they meet the strict border exception criteria.

"Any decisions on when to lift the border restrictions will be made by the government.

"INZ understands the impact that Covid-19 and our visa processing operations is having on visa holders, applicants, employers and other businesses.

"INZ is committed to ensure we keep everyone up to date with any new information as it becomes available and as decisions are made in the immigration space."

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