3 Aug 2020

Foreigners stranded in NZ call for extension to visas

7:04 pm on 3 August 2020

Some foreigners stuck in New Zealand are making concerted pleas to stay.

Retired Welsh doctor Chris Bates and his wife Penny want to stay in New Zealand a bit longer to remain safe from the Pacific cyclone season.

Retired Welsh doctor Chris Bates and his wife Penny. Photo: Supplied

Yachties do not want to untie from New Zealand marinas to face the dangers of seasonal Pacific storms, and backpackers do not want to go back to Covid-ravaged countries.

Some are even afraid of returning to politically unstable countries - according to the organiser of a petition that is seeking to have extensions granted to holders of working holiday visas.

Retired Welsh doctor Chris Bates and his wife Penny have been on a once-in-a-lifetime global sailing voyage. They had planned to sail away from New Zealand in May but were prevented from leaving by the Covid-19 lockdown.

"We're on our boat, which is our home. We were planning to sail from New Zealand in May, via Australia, and South Africa and the government kindly extended our visas until 25 September this year."

It has left them, and what he said were several hundred others, between the devil and the deep blue sea.

"We can't leave here in the spring because we'd be sailing into the cyclone season in the Pacific, which begins on 1 November, and we don't actually have anywhere to go to.

"I hope that the New Zealand government will look after us, and put us out of our misery soon.

"With the election coming up and so many other things happening, the government has got so much on their plate, we don't want to be forgotten."

Another international sailor, who did not want to be named, worried about their visa expiring and said it was problem causing great concern for those affected.

"Saftey of all should be the top priority for decision-makers, not just a blind attitude towards the pandemic and the border."

Limbo 'unfair' - yachting official

About 50 international sailors faced with this problem have approached Viki Moore, a director of Yachting New Zealand.

"They've been given a visa extension to September 2020, but post-that, their futures are uncertain, and many are getting the runaround from officials at Immigration New Zealand who don't appear to have any clear direction from the ministers in charge."

She said leaving them in limbo was unfair, and she had encouraged them to write to the ministers of immigration, customs and transport about the problem.

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Viki Moore says stranded sailors are getting the runaround from officials at Immigration New Zealand. Photo: Supplied / Viki Moore

International yacht crews could easily spend tens of thousands on groceries, maintenance and tourism while here, and our marine industry needed them, she said.

If they sailed back into the Pacific in cyclone season they would fall into Maritime New Zealand's rescue territory anyway.

"It's not like they're going to arrive in New Zealand and have to be supported by anyone. Their yachts are their homes, they are going to contribute to our economy, they're going to contribute to our tourism industry.

"We'll be helping out the Pacific Islands without having a whole bunch of boats there which could potentially be wrecked."

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Some of the international yachts currently moored in Whangārei. Photo: Supplied

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Backpackers were now urging the government to grant a six-month extension for Working Holiday Visa holders.

A petition attracted more than 13,000 signatures before it closed last week.

Organiser Marie Bock, who was on a working holiday from her home in Germany, said there were a number of reasons why many wanted to stay in New Zealand longer.

"They are afraid of the situation back home ... maybe not only Covid but in general, political situations aren't as good as they are in New Zealand.

"People are afraid of the future and I think it's very normal that people want to stay in a safe place for as long as possible."

German backpacker Marie Bock has organised a petition in the hope the government will extend working holiday visas for backpackers.

Petition organiser Marie Bock. Photo: Supplied

Among those who signed the petition was Mindy Simmons who said online: "I'm signing because going back to my home country (the United States) seems entirely unconscionable at the moment."

Daniel Eichlin signed three weeks ago and said: "I'm waiting for Australia to open. Otherwise, I'll have to go back to the US where the virus is ravaging the country."

Jenny Wolzenburg said: "I'm signing because as long as the borders are still closed and no new people can come in it's important to keep the backpackers who are already here and want to stay. For a lot of backpackers, New Zealand is important for them too, to give them a safe place to stay and live during this crazy pandemic."

Bock said their plight was a little different to stranded migrant workers for whom the government recently granted exemptions by extending work visas. She said talk of a looming labour shortage in New Zealand was another reason for the petition.

"I also saw New Zealand's perspective and thought the country will need workers during the spring and summer season and so it's giving and taking, and it's not only backpackers wanting to stay longer."

The 23-year-old business psychology graduate, who has been in New Zealand since last October, was volunteering at an Auckland yoga studio. She did not have any expectation on how many signatures the petition would get but was happy with the number.

Taking the petition to Parliament

Bock was now hoping for a quick result before Parliament went into pre-election recess.

Green Party MP Chlöe Swarbrick received the petition, which was now in the hands of the party's immigration spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman.

She said it was an urgent matter which deserved attention.

"We know there are people here who in good faith have come here to work and have then been essentially stranded ... or even if they can go back they'd be going back to places that might be dangerous and now their visa processing considerations are all kind of changed, in a changed world."

Golriz Ghahraman, left, and Chloe Swarbrick.

Golriz Ghahraman and Chlöe Swarbrick. Photo: Supplied / RNZ

Ghahraman said they would work quickly to get the petition in front of the minister.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said his office would look into whether there were plans to extend the Working Holiday Visas, beyond the current extension granted until 26 September to work here.

"Either way, the government's message to employers is to look at ways they can utilise New Zealand workers who have lost jobs as a result of Covid-19," the statement said.

Chris Bates and his wife Penny would in the meantime keep their yacht tied firmly to the dock in Whangārei marina. The 70-year-olds say leaving the boat here and flying home was not an option.

"We live on the boat, so this is actually our home. If we fly home (to the UK) then we have to find a home, and we wouldn't know when we could return."

Bates said they were grateful for what the New Zealand Government had done for them so far, but wanted it to enact a provision that allowed yachts and crew to stay in New Zealand if the risk of leaving was too great.

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