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Lower Hutt teacher considers return to South Africa as border closure continues to keep him away from family

A Lower Hutt teacher who migrated from South Africa says staying in New Zealand while its border remains closed is becoming more unbearable because more than a year has passed since he’d seen his wife and son. 

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Cameron Conradie hasn't seen his wife and son for more than a year and says newly-announced visa exemptions won't help his situation. Source: Breakfast

It comes as the Government announced yesterday that from the end of this month, families of healthcare workers and certain skilled workers can be reunited under new Covid-19 border exemptions. 

The new exemptions tried to fix an anomaly that meant migrant workers who entered the country before last year's Covid-19 border closure could not bring their families, but those who came after could.

The announcement was expected to reunify “hundreds'' of families, according to Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. But, many thousands of others won’t be eligible, the Conradie family included. 

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New Covid-19 border exceptions announced for families of healthcare workers, some skilled workers

Cameron Conradie, a teacher at Hutt Valley High School, came to New Zealand in January 2020 under a work-to-residence scheme as the country continues to grapple with a teacher shortage. 

He told Breakfast he came to the country in good faith that his family would soon follow, so much so he and his wife had both resigned from their jobs in South Africa. 

Cameron and his wife Tanya also sold their house, had their qualifications assessed, re-homed their dogs, cashed out their pensions and helped Tanya's parents move to a retirement village. 

Cameron said his family had committed “absolutely everything” to move to New Zealand. 

“We’ve essentially burnt our bridges.”

But, not being able to see his 13-year-old son Aidan and wife Tanya, both of whom were still in Durban, meant he had been considering calling it quits for “many months” now and moving back to South Africa, Cameron said.

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New visa exceptions prioritise health workers, will keep thousands of migrant families separated

He said he needed certainty from the Government within the month about what was going to happen, or he would leave. 

Meanwhile, Tanya and Aidan’s visas have sat untouched since April 3, 2020 because they hadn’t been granted permission to enter New Zealand. 

Tanya said the separation had taken a toll on her and her son. 

“Our marriage is very much a partnership. … We’ve done everything together, particularly raising our son,” Tanya said. 

“We’ve always raised him very much together and Cameron has always been and always will be a very very hands-on dad.”

Government announcement 'a very overdue response'

Immigration lawyer Katy Armstrong told Breakfast yesterday’s announcement was “good” but was “a very overdue response”.

“Once you start to actually analyse [the announcement], you realise just how few will get through comparatively.”

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The Government's announced new visa exceptions and while health workers are at the front of the queue, thousands of others will still be left waiting. Source: 1 NEWS

She said that was because the exemptions require someone to have a visa that was currently valid. Tanya and Aidan’s visas, like many others, had been put on hold when the border closed because people couldn’t activate it in New Zealand in the time they were required to do so. 

That meant people were left in a catch-22, Armstrong said. 

“We are very fearful at the moment that those visas will be treated as null and void.”

Armstrong called for the Government to sequence the arrivals of people in these situations. 

Had the Government done so since last year, “we could have got them all in by now” if “if we had used all the beds” in managed isolation and quarantine, she said. 

If the Government decides to begin the process, she estimated it would take four to six months. 

“We don’t want people just left dangling not knowing.”

Immigration Minister's 'difficult balancing act'

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi, who appeared on Breakfast this morning said yesterday’s announcement was designed to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand and make sure there was enough space in MIQ to allow people who have the right to come home to do so. 

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Kris Faafoi says border closures have been tough for families, but New Zealand needed to consider MIQ demand and keeping Covid-19 out. Source: Breakfast

“It is a difficult balancing act,” he said. 

Since the border shut, 13,000 critical workers had come to New Zealand, Faafoi said. 

Faafoi estimated about 450 people had a visa before the border closed. But, it was hard to predict exactly how many critical workers would want to bring their families to New Zealand after yesterday’s announcement, he added. 

He said the Government would track the demand resulting from yesterday’s announcement and would be “constantly looking at those settings”. 

As for sequencing arrivals for more families that were separated, “that’s a possibility in the future. Some of those factors are beyond our control”, he said. 

Faafoi said there were also steps in place in case workers like Cameron decide to leave New Zealand because they were in a “difficult situation”. 

“We have had in place since June a criteria to allow critical workers to come into New Zealand. Where there are critical shortages of workers and they’ve met the criteria, we are able to bring people in.”