In February 2020, 53-year-old Craig Hearn has temporarily moved his wife and daughter to Cape Town to expand the job market in New Zealand. After beating six other candidates for a job, he secured a required skills visa and began preparing to relocate his family.
“We looked at Craig’s CV and we thought, ‘Oh my god, he could walk into the job,'” says his employer, who struggled to find any employee with highly specialized qualifications to fill the position.
But reuniting the family was another matter. During the ten rejections for the limit exemption, the family, which had sold everything and rented it out, waited months of agony. “We end up crying together on the telephone,” Hearn says.
Then, in April, the government announced it would begin giving families of highly skilled and high-income workers one of three new categories eligible for exemption from border closures in the country. Hearn seemed to tick every box: He was a seasoned mechanical engineer who couldn’t be replaced by the Kiwis, working on approved infrastructure projects, and earned more than double the average salary, or $106,080. .
Nevertheless, two weeks after applying, Hearn’s family is again rejected, with Immigration New Zealand (INZ) dissatisfied that he has “unique experience and technical or specialist skills that are not easily obtained in New Zealand.” are” – despite giving him a required skills visa months ago. This has put him on the verge of going home for good.
Hearn is one of three “category three” migrants who have been rejected by the Guardian since the government’s announcement, all of whom have provided employer testimonials, CVs, rejection letters and other documents. All have been separated from their wives and children for over a year and are on the verge of leaving.
Critics say their stories show how New Zealand’s post-pandemic economic recovery as well as its global reputation for compassion could be at risk.
‘Packed up and ready to go home’
Patrick Tedeschi, 41, has not seen his family in Brazil since January last year. His rejection three weeks ago is the fifth time he has been rejected by INZ despite meeting category three requirements, a senior developer at accounting software company Xero said. Between running two households on one salary and developing behavioral issues due to the absence of their five-year-old son, he is at the end of his rope.
“It’s been very, very difficult,” he says. “We’re so close to canceling the mission and going back. We’re on edge. Closer to Christmas last year, it was a very difficult moment.”
Immigration Minister Chris Fafoi introduced category three after months of criticism over the ongoing plight of divided families, with the “limited exception” being “retaining the highly skilled temporary workers needed for New Zealand’s economic recovery”.
Yet cases such as this show that, despite being elected to amalgamation, little has changed for these migrants, which critics call for inconsistent and arbitrary decisions from the INZ. According to a Newshub report last week, only 15 family members have been approved under the new exemption rules for highly skilled workers.
“We have very skilled workers who are willing to pack up and go home because of select border closure problems,” says immigration attorney Alistair McLemont.
This has wide-ranging implications for New Zealand’s economic recovery. Employers have complained of labor shortages over the past year, and despite Fafoi’s claim that jobs vacated by migrants will be filled by kiwis, economist Shamubeel Iqab says the numbers do not bear this out. Government figures show that only 25,000 Kiwis came home in 2020, they say, fewer than about 30,000 returning annually from 2015-2018, while about 55,000 work and student visa holders left for good last year.
“I’ve been talking to clients in recruiting across the country, and the consistent story is that there is a huge demand for workers, but there is a shortage of talent,” says Ekoub. He warned that it could get worse when borders reopen, which he estimates could see as many as 80,000 Kiwi departures. These are dramatic numbers for a small country that typically relies on immigration to meet demand for skills, and whose infrastructure, from housing to health care, is under strain from years of low investment.
“If you don’t have people to do the work, it can’t be done,” says Eqab.
For Hearn’s employer, the rejection has left him in a dilemma. With him on board, the business was on track to meet growing demand and expand, planning to hire an additional sales representative and another engineer locally, whom he intended to mentor Hearn. did.
“It’s incredibly, incredibly worrying. And puts an enormous amount of pressure on us,” says her employer. “I really don’t know what else to do for Craig.”
A ‘surprising’ lack of foresight
Another case is of 41-year-old Gray Todd, an architect who last saw his wife a few days before the border closed, when she left for Johannesburg after her “look-and-see” trip . He has since recounted birthdays and anniversaries while watching his daughter grow from a child to a little girl through a screen.
Todd says, “You take the best part of you, the thing you love and enjoy the most, and you take that away.” “It’s probably the most brutal thing you can do to someone.”
His employer, Creative Arch director Mark McLay, calls the prospect of his leaving “devastating” for the company, which spent months sifting through dozens of unsuitable applicants. Since most of their work is focused on critical areas of leaky buildings and first-time buyer homes, this would put undue pressure on the rest of the team.
“It’s amazing that the government doesn’t have the foresight to see what’s happening in our economy,” he says.
Nicola Hogg, general manager of border and visa operations at INZ, said that while the body is “sympathetic to the impact of New Zealand’s border restrictions on certain migrant families, INZ’s role as a regulator is to assess all requests for border exceptions . The relevant criteria set out in immigration policy … INZ have no capacity to apply discretion when considering requests for border exceptions.”
She said that a total of 892 family members were allowed under two other exception categories announced in April.
But if even highly skilled migrants are denied, it is bad for the prospects of the thousands of other segregated families that fall outside this category. Critics claim that the new categories are already too narrow and discriminatory.
“The so-called low-skilled workers were essential and frontline workers through the lockdown,” says Anu Kaloti, president of the Migrant Workers Union NZ. “Prioritizing visa exemptions based on workers’ skills or ability to generate wealth is not only against basic human rights, but is not aligned with an internationally known brand New Zealand.”
And if the country struggles to make up for labor shortages once borders reopen, the dent the brand has made could well turn into a post-pandemic recovery.
“We started developing a Canadian immigration branch for our business because that’s what all of our customers want to do now,” says McLemont. “The migrants here have no doubt that this government does not want them and does not value them.”