Apologise, then make it right

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 30 July 2021, republished on Stuff.co.nz (Wellington), 3 August 2021

A few days ago, the Otaki Medical Centre posted about one of their doctors on Facebook: “We’re disappointed to have lost Dr Richards back to the UK after being unable to secure him and his family residency due to a Government freeze in place with COVID-19,” the GP practice wrote.

“Here is an amazing doctor, who cares about our community and wanted to make NZ home. Sadly – after months of fighting – we have had to close the practice to new patients.”

Dr Richards is one of many migrants affected by the government’s restrictive and inflexible residence policies. According to a Newshub report, there are at least 1,000 registered doctors and nurses waiting for a decision on their residence status. It is a nightmarish situation for them and their families.

While these migrants are waiting, they cannot open a KiwiSaver account, they cannot buy a house and, crucially, they cannot bring in their family.

It is not just medical professionals, either. The total queue of applications for residence from migrants already in the country exceeds 10,000 people.

It affects all walks of life, including many of those areas in which New Zealand desperately needs skilled workers.

Many of these workers have been with us since lockdown last year and have been treated terribly. Short term work visa extensions are issued at the last minute, leaving everyone on tenterhooks. Few employers are willing to take on staff whose visas could soon expire.

The government is effectively forcing skilled migrants to leave the country, while trying to find space in MIQ for other foreign workers to replace them. It is madness in a time of skill shortages and MIQ shortages.

There is a simple solution. It would ease some of the backlog difficulties at Immigration New Zealand. And it would go some way toward righting the wrongs suffered by those on temporary visas.

In the first instance, the Government should apologise to the thousands of migrants and their families for the distress caused. It was not the Kiwi way to treat people.

After that apology, the Government should fix the situation. Everyone who was legally here with us through last year’s lockdown, and who has stuck with us since then, could simply be given residence immediately.

If the migrants have dependent children and partners abroad from whom they have been separated for these past sixteen months, their family should be given residence as well, along with priority entry into the MIQ system.

It is that simple. The only question to the Government is: Why not?

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