Covid-19 Border Bans Plunge New Zealand Into Deeper Isolation

Francesca Giansanti, Licensed Immigration Adviser at Immigration Chambers

The first half of 2020 has been an extremely challenging time for New Zealand and for the world in general. The spread of the Covid-19 has caused the loss of many lives and created an unprecedented climate of uncertainty and instability in every aspect of our lives.

New Zealand has been one of the countries that has most effectively managed to limit the spread of the virus among its population. As an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, its geographical characteristics have certainly played a key role in the success of the measures put in place by the Government to contain the disease.  New Zealand is virtually impossible to be reached unless by air or by sea and this has allowed the authorities to easily exercise a strict and effective control over the people entering the country, through the closure of its borders. While the Covid-19 was raging all over the world, New Zealand has been able to stay almost, if not completely, Covid-19 free.

Current Travel Restriction

The New Zealand border is currently closed to almost all travellers wanting to travel to New Zealand by either air or sea. The only exceptions are for New Zealand citizens and residents and their partners or children, where they hold a visa based on their relationship with the New Zealander, or a very small group of people who satisfy the travel exemption.

A person can request special permission to be allowed to enter the country, but only if they belong to one of the categories indicated by Immigration New Zealand as eligible for the travel exception. To date, most requests for an exception to INZ have been based on humanitarian reasons or have been presented by employers requesting that their worker to be allowed in the country.

Such exceptions are, however, extremely hard to obtain.

Why most travel exemption requests are refused?

The humanitarian threshold that travellers must meet to be granted entry permission is extremely high and many temporary visa holders simply do not reach it. Even if they are stranded overseas and unable to return to the country that they effectively consider their home, such circumstances typically do not meet the criticality threshold required to grant an exceptional entry permission on humanitarian basis.

Similarly, even if many employers desperately need their workers back to fill important positions inside their companies, the travel exception requests are often declined, as the skill levels of their employees are not considered high enough, their role is not considered sufficiently critical for the execution of prescribed projects, or their ability to benefit New Zealand is not considered significant.

As a result, many people are currently unable to return to their homes, their personal belongings, and their loved ones. They left for what it was meant to be a holiday or a short trip to visit their family, only to find themselves suddenly unable to come home. They cannot get back to their work, to their schools, to see their friends, to their life, and are left to deal with all the emotional distress that this involves.

When will the border restriction be relaxed?

Employers are struggling to run their businesses and are in desperate need of employees that, even if they do not meet the (almost impossible) threshold imposed by INZ to be allowed an entry permit, are vital for their businesses and who have skills and expertise that they are unable to find in local candidates. This is causing New Zealand companies to incur significant damages, to face financial difficulties, and to be unable to help restart an economy so severely impacted by the Covid-19 situation.

One must wonder if a more relaxed approach to the closure of our borders, aligned with strict controls and isolation obligations imposed on people arriving from overseas, could still be effective in the protection of  the country from the virus, while also supporting a more sustained restart of the economy and a more human treatment of those migrants that have not only chosen New Zealand as their home, but who constitute a precious and important part of our workforce and of our communities.

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