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The year that split families

26 March 2021

It is in no way an understatement that these are the strangest times we have ever encountered. From the suspension of offshore visas to the closure of the key residence category – SMC – the consequences for many migrants in and outside New Zealand have been grave. Split families, be it of NZ citizens or residents or temporary visa holders, remains the most pressing yet unresolved issue. Affected people are trying everything in their power to reunite. For many couples, who either:

– haven’t lived together for a reasonable time due to external restraints or

– didn’t ordinarily live in New Zealand before getting stuck offshore or

– those who had flights booked but could never board them

No border exception categories exist. This means there is no way for them to enter New Zealand. Many such people would have tried their luck at the humanitarian border entry process, only to be declined.

The INZ webinar held on 26th March 2021 made it clear that they are acutely aware of this issue. But allowing such groups of people to enter the country is a political/government decision, not INZ’s. However, with the procurement of vaccines, we could be looking at easing off of the border for some key groups such as split families. But the challenge that presents when working through these options is which cohort should be let in first as MIQ capacity remains constrained. Should it be partners of temporary visa holders who have been in long term relationships or partners of New Zealanders but more recently married? There are also other groups of visa holders who were working hard to establish their lives in New Zealand and an ill-timed holiday threw them off their course and their future plans – they need to come back to NZ too?

When broadening of border exceptions starts, as always there will some that gain and some that continue to lose out. And with that, the pandemic also continues to test the limits of human resilience for many people waiting to cross the New Zealand border.

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