Kiwi expats are calling for changes to voucher allocation, after many have been left working against the clock to return home in time to see terminally ill loved ones.
The new system means returning New Zealanders need to secure a voucher for a stay in Covid-19 managed isolation. But with the rush to get home for Christmas there’s a limited amount of spaces – and no emergency allocation on compassionate grounds.
Mother Sarra White, her husband and newborn baby are currently in managed isolation after weeks of trying to secure a voucher. Sarra’s father-in-law was told he has just weeks to live, and he’s never met his grandson.
“It’s the most stressful thing I’ve ever dealt with,” White told 1 NEWS.
She tried for weeks to have an emergency allocation granted; her father-in-law’s hospice even providing a letter to help plead her family’s case. But the current criteria for emergency allocations doesn’t include compassionate grounds.
The Ministry of Immigration says emergency allocation of vouchers is a last resort, and the threshold’s high. A traveller must have imminent threat to their life, or serious risk to their health that requires urgent travel to New Zealand to qualify.
To date, more than a thousand requests have been made, and just 53 approved. Daily capacity is just over 6,000 and projected daily occupancy over the next two weeks is around 5,700. The Ministry says it needs the fat in system for emergencies and time to clean rooms between guests.
But those who’ve applied for emergency allocation, like White says it's disheartening when people are spending days at the computer refreshing the page for voucher availability.
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says he acknowledges it’s a difficult time for families.
“We will do what we can to ease some of that pressure but we are never going to be able to solve every one of those problems,” he told 1 NEWS.
After raising the issue on social media, White says a travel agent from Hamilton got in touch with her and helped book her flights and voucher. Now she’s praying her father-in-law holds on until they’re out in a week's time.
“I know there are so many people who face these challenges and I think the system needs to have more compassion for families who are already having a hard time. I totally understand the rules, I’m all for keeping safe, but we need a balance of getting families together when it matters most at the same time,” she says.