Borders reopening to some migrants, thousands still locked out

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

New Zealand's borders are finally reopening to some international students and temporary visa holders. But it doesn’t change anything for thousands of migrants whose visas expired during the pandemic.

Rubica Kapoor and her family left for India in early 2020 so that her one-year-old daughter could meet her grandfather. But they got stranded there when the pandemic hit and our borders shut in March 2020.

“Everything is there,” says Kapoor, her eyes tearing up. By everything she means all her furniture, clothes, cars, jewellery, important documents, and her daughters mementos.

“I don’t know what to do. I keep telling everyone, my friends, that I will come back but I don’t know when,” she says.

Thousands of migrants have not been allowed to return to the country they call home, and 1News spoke to those whose lives remain in limbo two years on.

Gursharanpreet Kaur says all of her house belongings and two of her cars are left behind. She travelled with her family to India for an emergency visit pre-pandemic. Her father-in-law had suffered from a heart attack.

She’s lived in New Zealand for 10 years now and says she’s having to start from square one again.

“The last two years are like a nightmare for me. I don’t have anything, I have to build a new house over here and it’s not an easy job, it’s pretty hard for me to start from zero again,” says Kaur.

Her seven-year-old son is ‘exhausted’ and struggling to cope with the schooling there.

Gursharn Singh says he’s still paying for his car’s warrant of fitness and registration back here in New Zealand while he’s stuck in India. “Even I paid the rent in New Zealand for one year for my home there,” he says.

Singh has been working in New Zealand since 2012 in the hospitality industry, he’s pleading to come back as he continues to see the industry here facing dire shortages. He says he feels like “a second class citizen” by not being allowed into the country.

Ramandeep Lalotra was comfortably paying off a $40,000 student loan while working in New Zealand, now he says that’s near impossible while he’s stuck in India.

“I’ve got a final notice from the bank that if I won’t be able to pay, they will start doing the auction of the house. We are five members of the family and this is the only property and only house we have. If there won’t be anything done for us by the New Zealand Government we will be on the roads in coming few days,” says Lalotra.

Government responds

According to figures obtained by MBIE, when the borders shut in 2020 around 70,000 work and student visa holders were stranded overseas. Now, only 16,000 people offshore with work visas and 3000 people offshore with students visas have valid visas and are able to enter the country.

That leaves tens of thousands of visas that have expired and those families will have to pay another large sum to reapply to get back home.

In a statement to 1News, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said: "Where offshore temporary visa holders, or visa applicants have been unable to come to New Zealand because of Covid restrictions, Immigration NZ has provided refunds to around 30,000 people who will be able to apply for new visas as New Zealand re-opens to the world".

He says the Reconnecting Strategy which was announced in February is continuing to be reviewed as to when more categories would be brought forward, "including the need to open up to workers and visitors who could provide much needed support for our hospitality, tourism and other sectors".

“I think we should actually bring those people back on a temporary visa so they can collect their belongings which they've left here as they've gone overseas and while they're here they can apply for a work visa and go forward on that basis,” says National leader Christopher Luxon.

Over 100,000 migrants in New Zealand got a path to residency last year.

“We have missed that golden opportunity… and that kills us from the inside everyday,” says Lalotra.

“We feel neglected,” says Kapoor.

While New Zealand begins reopening its doors to the world, and while some families will be able to return as of this week, thousands still remain locked out of their homes, with no light at the end of the tunnel for now.