Auckland Airport’s international terminal normally handles about 27,000 passengers and 155 flights a day. Coronavirus has changed that.
Migrants to New Zealand who are stuck outside the country because they were overseas when the border was closed are anxiously waiting for clarification from the Government about when they might be able to return to their homes.
Some of the migrants have set up the “Migrants stuck outside of New Zealand” Facebook page, which highlights their plight, and have made a video pleading to be allowed to return.
One of the migrants – Yu Ting Mak, who is in Singapore now – has also started a parliamentary petition seeking the removal of border restrictions against temporary work visa holders with jobs in New Zealand.
Mak, who started the petition on May 5, said she did so because many other migrants she was in contact with were anxious about their chances of getting back to New Zealand.
“No one was getting any positive news at all. That’s when I decided perhaps we needed a petition to increase awareness of our plight,” she said.
Mak was also in the video, although she said that was organised by a group of temporary visa holders stuck in Brazil.
New Zealand was closed off from the rest of the world as part of efforts to stop the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the disease Covid-19. The border closure applied to planes boarded after 11.59pm on March 19.
After New Zealand moved out of coronavirus alert Level 4, essentially from April 28, there had been hopes some information would be provided at least about the possibility the migrants would be able to return to this country, Mak said.
“They were disheartened and decided perhaps a video would help to get some sort of update.”
She thought there were at least several hundred, and possibly getting close to 1000, migrants stuck outside New Zealand who were keeping in contact with each other through various online social groups.
Some had lost their jobs while they were overseas but many were still employed. “But even without jobs they want to go back to at least clear everything up.” Many were also still paying rent on homes in New Zealand.
Born in Singapore, she is staying at her family home for now and continues to work as a digital conversion consultant for a company based in Auckland.
She had been in New Zealand on an essential skills work visa, and flew back to Singapore on March 19 with her partner to arrange some documentation as they had been invited to apply for a New Zealand residency.
The same day they flew to Singapore, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave just six hours warning the border was to close to almost all non-residents.
The moment Mak and her partner landed, they found out New Zealand was closing its border. “It just happened so abruptly. We weren’t sure what we could do,” Mak said.
They were still paying $1600 a month rent in New Zealand. “Everything is still there: our car, our belongings, everything we left in the fridge.”
In recent days there have been indications the Government is looking into the migrants’ situation.
In an interview, run in Stuff on Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern accepted the issue of migrants stuck overseas needed to be sorted out. Officials are working on the quarantine procedures that would be needed for returning migrants.
Those comments were noted on the migrants’ Facebook page.
“Finally, a shoutout from Jacinda Ardern. Let’s hope for news on these ‘quarantine procedures’ to be made clear to us soon so we can protect New Zealand, follow the rules, and be reunited with our families and home,” a note on the page said.
Here is an account from Mak in her own words about her situation, along with accounts, with some editing, of four other migrants unable to get back to New Zealand from overseas:
Yu Ting Mak, 29 (left) and Noreen M. Wong, 27
“We were aware of the evolving pandemic situation, and we even anticipated that we might experience a delayed return in the event that we did come into contact, or even got the virus, but we never thought that we would be denied entry back into our own homes.
“We landed to news of border closure in New Zealand and there was no time to make preparations and book return flights. We are stuck in a limbo, living out of a suitcase.
“I feel like we’ve been put through a cruel situation in constant uncertainty. I’m still working for my Auckland-based company from Singapore, helping Kiwi brands like Countdown and Les Mills improve their website experience. I’m still paying for my taxes and rent but yet here I am, being neglected by the system.”
Devanshi Kiri, 23
Devanshi Kiri has been living in New Zealand since 2018, first coming to study for her masters at the University of Waikato.
She was working as a sales consultant when her father suffered a heart attack in March, and flew back to India where her parents lived.
By the time she arrived at her parents’ home in Vadodara, India her father was dead.
“It was the most shocking and appalling news for me because my father was a very healthy man. It is still difficult to face this reality and accept his absence in the family,” she said.
The New Zealand border closed soon after she arrived in India and a month after her dad’s funeral, her contract was terminated due to the lack of information about when she would be able to return.
She is still paying rent, including electricity and gas.
“Life has been very uncertain in these few months, and mine flipped within a few days’ time. I am only left with questions at the moment,” she said.
Sophie Trotter, 29 and Tom Harrison, 30
Sophie Trotter and her partner Tom Harrison flew to Bali for a holiday on March 13. They were due to return to Auckland on March 21, but rushed to book another flight when border closures were announced.
“When we realised the borders were closing we paid four times the price for another return flight to make it in time before the border shut,” Trotter said.
At the airport they were told the flight had been cancelled and ran out of time trying to arrange a way back to New Zealand.
The couple, who are from the UK, have been living and working in New Zealand since October 2016. They are on a five-year essential skills visa through Harrison’s work that started in January 2020.
“Our home is in New Zealand (which we are still paying rent and bills for) along with all of our belongings. We want to return to our jobs, our home, our friends and our lives.
“We appreciate everything that the New Zealand Government has done in response to Covid. It has been handled brilliantly and is one of the many reasons that we are so proud to live in New Zealand.
“We are just asking for our situation to be considered. Although we do not currently have permanent residence, we are not just holiday makers and want to come home.”
Tibou and Marissa Kaloga, and their 3 sons
The Kaloga family moved from Ohio, USA to Dunedin in August of 2019. Dr Marissa Kaloga’s has an employer-sponsored work visa for a permanent faculty position at University of Otago. They moved over as Marissa Kaloga holds a confirmation path lecturer position in the Department of Social and Community Work at University of Otago. The family intends to stay in New Zealand long term and apply for residency.
Shortly after arriving to start their new life in New Zealand, Tibou Kaloga had to urgently return to the US to provide full time care for a critically ill parent. The parent thankfully recovered, but by that time the borders had closed due to Covid-19.
The Kaloga family is now separated by the border policy, and the children are having a difficult time coping without their father. Tibou Kaloga says, “We do a lot of video calls, and I’m grateful that we can do that. But it’s so hard when the kids ask me when I’ll come back. They really need me right now.”