Govt ignoring 'humanitarian crisis' of visa holders unable to reunite with families in NZ, lawyer says

A gap in the country’s border exemptions has left visa holders feeling “devalued” by the system, with over a thousand dependents denied entry, an advocate says. 

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Katy Armstrong says even with the right paperwork, over a thousand dependants have been denied entry to New Zealand. Source: Breakfast

Nikhil, who asked that his surname not be used, told Breakfast today that he first moved to New Zealand 14 months ago in hopes of making a better life as a software consultant for his wife and young daughter.

He’s applied several times to the government for his family to be exempt against the Covid-19 border measures, but each time they’ve been denied.

“When I came, she was about five years old," he said of his daughter. "She just turned six years old. I’ve missed her birthday. I’ve missed her teeth falling out."

Even with the right paperwork to grant the family exemptions in normal times, they’ve been stuck in a loophole with no way of reuniting.

Last year his wife contracted Covid-19 in India, and while she is better now, Nikhil faced a though decision about whether to stay here or return to India. 

"At that point I didn't know what to do. I had the option to move back but I didn't have a job. I didn't have a job so I wouldn't be able to give my daughter the future we always dreamed of."

For families to be granted access to New Zealand, under the Government’s border measures, they need to have visited New Zealand in the past year.

But with most of Nikhil’s time in the country spent with the borders closed, he’s had very little ability to.

Immigration lawyer Katy Armstrong says he’s not alone.

Information retrieved under the Official Information Act revealed 1092 visa dependants, like Nikhil’s wife and child, have been denied access.

She says the Government wasted its opportunity to reunite these families early in the pandemic before case numbers spiralled.

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Sandeep Singh says today's announcement was a shock to the community. Source: 1 NEWS

“There are moments in the last year where it was entirely possible to bring these people together, but we squandered,” she said.

“Why have we reached a point in April 2021 where we still don’t have a border that can safely manage it when we have a humanitarian crisis on our hands?”

With yesterday's announcement of a temporary ban on travellers from India, Armstrong says many feel "singled out" when their case numbers rival the likes of the United States, UK and Brazil.

"When you've got a ban like this, people from those countries are going to feel absolutely singled out because you have similar [coronavirus] numbers to other countries." 

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The Covid-19 Response Minister says "we need to understand why" so many people are arriving from India sick, but not from other high-risk nations. Source: Breakfast

During a separate appearance on Breakfast today, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said that while there are other Covid-19 hotspots around the world — such as the United States — not as many people from those countries appear to be arriving at the border infected with the virus. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has echoed Hipkins' response.

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When asked today if she had misled Kiwis by telling them they were always welcomed home, Ardern said "absolutely not". Source: 1 NEWS

But Armstrong is calling on the Government to layout a timeline for families like Nikhil, who have been "waiting in the wings for a year now" while exemptions are given to others.

"Let us not forget, it's not that we don't have people coming into New Zealand. We have all those entertainers and those sports people, and they have watched those people come in over their head and they're feeling really devalued at this point in time."