The Government will widen its border exemption regime in a bid to allow hundreds of families, separated by Covid-19, to reunite in New Zealand.
The news will come as welcome to many, including Patrick Tedeschi – a Brazilian software developer who hasn’t seen his wife and children for more than a year.
He is one of hundreds of split migrant families, who have been separated from their families because of Covid-19 induced border restrictions.
This morning, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi announced new border exemptions which mean “hundreds of families” will be reunited.
“We are in the midst of a global pandemic, which requires strict border restrictions. But we have been mindful of the difficulties migrant workers and families have faced.”
But it might be a “few months” before they can see each other as those eligible still need an MIQ slot and will need to be in managed isolation for two weeks.
Asked why this took so long, Faafoi said it was “about getting the balance right”.
That balance took into account the health risk.
He is also hinted that there will be more announcements to come – “we will be looking at further adjustments in the weeks and months ahead, including work on immigration policy reforms”.
The new border exceptions will allow offshore visa applications for the families of health care workers, as well as a small number of other highly skilled workers in other sectors that are currently in New Zealand.
Faafoi said there are roughly 6000 critical health workers – but the number of those people who want to bring in their families is unknown.
He said the Government was looking into waving some visa fees.
“People have been put in difficult situations because of Covid.”
Faafoi said that figuring out how many people will take up this offer is relatively difficult. That’s because the Government does not know how many family members split migrants have, and how many would like to travel to New Zealand.
But Faafoi said the Government was “constantly reviewing” border rules. “We are trying to manage expectations”.
Faafoi said he didn’t have a number when it comes to how many split families won’t be eligible for the exemption. But he estimated that it would be “thousands”.
“None of these decisions are easy,” he said.
“We understand the difficulties that some families go through.”
So far, 13,000 critical workers have been allowed into New Zealand while the borders have been closed.
Faafoi denied that the Government was putting the economy ahead of people when it comes to split families.
“This is the balance of making sure we can keep the economy moving, and keeping people safe.”
A new border exception is also being created for the partners and dependent children of temporary visa holders in New Zealand, who hold visas but had not yet arrived here when the border closed.
The new exemptions follow months of pressure from split families and National’s immigrations spokeswoman Erica Stanford.
“This unfolding crisis in New Zealand is a stain on our society and is an affront to the mantra of kindness that has been [put forward] by our Prime Minister,” she said at the rally last week.
To be eligible for the new border exceptions, the family member currently in New Zealand must have more than 12 months remaining on their visa, Faafoi said.
“These latest exceptions are expected to allow hundreds more migrants to come to New Zealand and join their families.”
Those who are eligible will be able to request a border exception from 30 April 2021.
“In the past year, we have introduced exceptions that have allowed entry for around 13,000 family members of New Zealand citizens and residents and 1300 temporary work visa holders, and their families, who normally live here and were overseas when the borders closed,” Faafoi said.
“More than 2,500 family members of critical workers have also entered to date.”
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