It is time to bring back migrant workers stranded offshore

It is time to bring back migrant workers stranded offshore

Auckland, August 9, 2020

Migrant workers have their homes, assets and jobs in New Zealand

Tens of thousands of people holding temporary visas are stranded abroad.

According to Migrant Workers Association of Aotearoa, there are about 42,000 such people waiting for the New Zealand government to relax its border controls and allow them to return.

Many of them have New Zealand-born children and all of their personal belongings here. Their future is uncertain as they continue to pay rent and bills here as well in the countries in which they are stranded.

Meanwhile, many of these workers risk losing their jobs because their employers cannot wait forever.

While accepting the fact that quarantine and managed isolation facilities are full, resulting in delays to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents re-entering the country, it is equally important to consider temporary visa holders on humanitarian grounds.

Rowena Singh

Humanitarian grounds

During an interview with Radio Tarana, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said that the government has not forgotten the plight of temporary visa holders keen to return to their lives in New Zealand.

He said that while safety is the main priority, “humanitarian needs of those who would normally call New Zealand home” is also an important consideration.

Mr Faafoi said that offshore migrant workers were on “top of the mind” while officials continued to work through the logistics of letting them return to New Zealand safely.

Former Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway told Radio Tarana that there was a lack of opportunity to safely permit temporary visa holders, mostly because of a large influx of returning New Zealand citizens and residents.

He said that Covid-19 continues to spread in most parts of the country citizens and permanent residents of New Zealand in these places eager to return home. And that really limits New Zealand’s ability to take people who are on temporary visas.

Temporary visa holders should be brought back with the same priority and haste as citizens and permanent residents.

Extending visa validity

If the New Zealand government is not able to prioritise the swift return of temporary visa holders, it should at the very least extend their visas.

The Migrant Workers Association of Aotearoa has demanded that all temporary visa holders stranded offshore are given visa extensions equal to the duration of border closure.

They also say that visa workers in New Zealand are not faring any better. Most of them have their work visas attached to their jobs. Cuts due to the economic downturn have left many without jobs. No job means no visa for these workers. They have no source of income and they are not eligible for benefits.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, many migrants took to the streets to oppose unacceptably long visa processing times of Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

Benefits to migrant workers

This issue still remains largely unresolved.

The Association has also demanded that all visas attached to employers are opened so that migrants have the flexibility to work wherever they can find jobs.

Their third demand is that emergency benefits be provided to all jobless migrants onshore and offshore by enacting section 64 of the Social Security Act.

The quarantine set up for the temporary visa holders upon their return to New Zealand could be similar to New Zealand citizens and permanent residents; they could stay in managed isolation or quarantine for fourteen days till they are tested negative of Covid-19 virus.

They could meet the cost of quarantine if they are able to; if not, the government should meet the cost.

Rowena Singh is a freelance journalist, photographer and videographer. She lives in Auckland. Email:

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