IIn February 2020, Craig Hurn, 53, left his wife and daughter temporarily in Cape Town to take up the labor market in. to explore New Zealand. After beating six other candidates for a job, he secured a basic skills visa and began preparations for his family’s move.
“We saw Craig’s résumé and thought, ‘Oh my god, he can get on the job right away,'” says his employer, who struggled to find workers with the highly specialized skills to fill the position.
But family reunion was a different matter. During ten denials of border liberation, the family, who had sold everything and moved into a rented apartment, had to endure months of excruciating waiting. “In the end we cry together on the phone,” says Hurn.
Then, in April, the Government announced it would begin by letting in the families of highly skilled and well-paid workers, one of three new categories eligible for an exemption from the border closure. Hurn seemed to tick every box: he was a skilled mechanical engineer who couldn’t be replaced by a Kiwi, worked on approved infrastructure projects, and made more than double the average salary, or $ 106,080.
But two weeks after the application, Hurn’s family was rejected again because Immigration New Zealand (INZ) is dissatisfied. He has “unique experience and technical or professional skills not readily available in New Zealand” – despite having been granted an essential skills visa months earlier. It got him close to going home for good.
Hurn is one of three “Category 3” migrants the Guardian has spoken to who have been turned down since the government announced. All have submitted employer references, résumés, rejection letters and other documents. All of them have been separated from their wives and children for over a year and are about to leave the country.
Critics say their stories illustrate how New Zealand’s post-pandemic economic recovery, as well as its global reputation for compassion, could be jeopardized.
“Ready to pack and go home”
Patrick Tedeschi, 41, has not seen his family in Brazil since January last year. As the lead developer of accounting software company Xero, INZ turned down his rejection three weeks ago for the fifth time, despite meeting Category 3 requirements. Between running two households on one salary and the behavioral problems his five-year-old son has developed due to his absence, he is at the end of his rope.
“It was very, very tough,” he says. “We are about to abandon the mission and return. We’re on the edge. Just before Christmas last year it was a very difficult moment. “
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi led after months of criticism of the persistent plight of divided families, referred to as a “limited exception” to “retain highly skilled temporary workers necessary for New Zealand’s economic recovery”.
However, cases like these suggest that, despite being selected for reunification, little has changed for these migrants due to what critics call inconsistent and arbitrary decisions by the INZ. According to a Newshub report Last week, just 15 family members were admitted under the new exemption for highly qualified workers.
“We have very highly qualified workers who are ready to pack their things and go home because of the occasional border closure problems,” says immigration attorney Alastair McClymont.
This has far-reaching implications for New Zealand’s economic recovery. Employers have complained from a Labor shortage in the last year and despite Return claim that the jobs vacated by migrants will be filled by Kiwis, says economist Shamubeel Eaqub Numbers don’t prove that. Government statistics show that only 25,000 Kiwis came home in 2020, less than the roughly 30,000 who returned annually between 2015 and 2018, while last year roughly 55,000 work and student visa holders left for good.
“I’ve been around the country speaking to recruiting clients and the constant story is that there’s a lot of demand for labor but a shortage of talent,” says Eaqub. He warns that this could worsen once the borders are reopened, which he estimates could take up to 80,000 kiwis to leave. These are dramatic numbers for a small country that typically relies on immigration to meet its skill needs and infrastructure casing to Health care, suffers from years of underinvestment.
“If you don’t have people doing the job, it can’t be done,” says Eaqub.
The rejection has put her in a bind for Hurn’s employer. With him on board, the company was on track to meet growing demand and expand, planning to hire an additional local sales representative and engineer whom Hurn had as a mentor.
“It’s incredible, incredibly unsettling. And puts us under enormous pressure, ”says his employer. “I don’t really know what else to do for Craig.”
An “amazing” lack of foresight
Another case is Gray Todd, 41, an architect who last saw his wife days before the border closed when she was leaving for Johannesburg after her “look and see” trip. They’ve since missed birthdays and anniversaries as he watched his daughter grow from a baby to a little girl through a screen.
“You take the best part of you, what you love and enjoy the most, and you take it away,” says Todd. “That’s probably the cruelest thing you can do to anyone.”
His employer, Creative Arch Director Mark McLeay, describes the prospect of his departure as “devastating” for the company, which has spent months sifting through dozens of unsuitable applicants. With much of their work focused on the critical areas of leaky buildings and first-time buyers, this will place undue stress on the rest of the team.
“It’s just amazing that the government doesn’t have the foresight to see what’s going on in our economy,” he says.
Nicola Hogg, general manager of Border and Visa Operations at INZ, said that while the panel “sympathizes with the impact of New Zealand border restrictions on some migrant families, INZ’s role as a regulator is to block all border exemption requests against the relevant criteria as laid down in immigration policy … INZ has no discretion when examining applications for border exemptions. “
She said a total of 892 family members had been admitted under the other two exception categories announced in April.
But if even highly skilled migrants continue to be rejected, it is a bad sign of the prospects for thousands of other separated families who do not fall into this category. Critics claim that the new categories are already too narrow and discriminatory.
“The so-called low-skilled were vital and workers on the front lines through lockdowns,” said Anu Kaloti, president of the Migrant Workers Association NZ. “Prioritizing visa facilitation based on the skills of workers or the ability to create wealth not only violates basic human rights, but is also inconsistent with the New Zealand brand as it is known internationally.”
And the dent the mark has made could have an impact on post-pandemic recovery if the country struggles to address labor shortages after borders reopen.
“We started building a Canadian immigration department for our business because that’s all our customers want to do now,” says McClymont. “The migrants here have no doubt that this government does not want them and does not appreciate them.”