Hundreds of essential workers in New Zealand on temporary visas and residents offshore have missed out on the chance to reunite with their families due to a glitch in the MIQ system.
The issue means a number of valid visa holders are not being recognised by its verification system and, as a result, were unable to secure a spot in Thursday's lobby.
It’s yet another blow for these families, many of whom on temporary visas, who are unable to return to New Zealand if they leave while the borders are so tightly managed.
Neethu Sethu came to New Zealand in early 2020 to work as an early childhood teacher, leaving behind her 10-year-old daughter in India.
“It’s been two years. I am a single mum, so she is dependent on me. My parents are very old and they cannot take care of her. She is missing me a lot.”
As Covid-19 hit and New Zealand’s borders closed, only residents and citizens were able to return. This made it difficult for those on temporary visas to be reunited with their family members.
Now, there are a few more border exemptions being issued, including for relatives of those on temporary visas in New Zealand that are working in highly skilled areas.
But for most of last year, India – where Sethu's daughter lives – was on the very high-risk country list. Her young daughter would have had to travel on her own, to a third country, to quarantine for 14 days before being allowed into New Zealand while that designation remained in place.
“I couldn’t accompany her because if I leave the country, I don’t think I’ll be able to come back,” Sethu said.
India was removed off the very high-risk list in December, giving Sethu hope she’d finally get to reunite with her only daughter. On Thursday, she was 426 in the MIQ lobby list – but the system failed to recognise her daughter’s visa.
“I feel terribly lost,” she said. “Next time, I may not be close to that number – I could be far away from the target. It’s so disappointing; I wish this problem is resolved soon.”
Rajani Ghimiri is a critical healthcare worker living in Tauranga on a temporary visa. The MIQ system wouldn’t even allow her to register her husband to enter the lobby.
“I’m very depressed, very stressed. Facing lots and lots of health problems and no one is here to look after me here. I’m here alone. It’s been so hard to live without him since 2019.”
1News has spoken to a number of others and seen dozens of emails telling a similar story – their tales likely to be reflective of a much larger number of people affected.
Immigration lawyer Nigel Mason says he called the MIQ helpline on behalf of a client and was told it was to do with a bug in the new verification system that had been introduced.
“They are getting about 50 phone calls a day,” he said. “It appears to affect everyone in the category of registered nurses, teachers, so skilled workers [on temporary visas].
“It just adds stress to the heartache for these people. They were given an assurance months ago that their families would be able to join them.”
In one email shared with 1News, the MIQ verification glitch appears to also be affecting those on the new 2021 residence visa which opened late last year.
“Although holders of 2021 residence visas can travel to New Zealand right now … they cannot obtain a Managed Isolation Allocation System voucher because the system will not verify you,” the email reads. “Although we are aware of the problem, we are not actively working on it. It’s entirely possible the 2021 Residence Visa will not be added … until after the borders reopen, when of course it will no longer be necessary.”
It’s an issue that would also affect any here who’d hoped being granted residency would give them the right to return to New Zealand if they went to visit their families overseas.
In a statement, acting deputy secretary of MIQ, Andrew Milne, says he is aware of a “small percentage” of passengers with valid New Zealand visas who may not be able to be verified.
“We are working to resolve this as soon as possible," he said.
National Party immigration spokeswoman Erica Stanford says the issue is causing more distress and uncertainty for families who have spent years apart as a result of the Covid-19-related border restrictions.
“Our essential workers have done everything the Government has asked,” she said. “They’ve gone through the correct application process for visas and patiently waited for months to reunite with their families.
“[The] failure to fix this issue with urgency is sending a message to migrants that they don’t care about them.”
Some of those waiting have missed out on almost an entire lifetime of memories while waiting.
John Baniya’s daughter was only one years old when he last saw her.
“She’s already five; I missed that whole era. I am missing her. I don’t have words – I can’t express how much I am missing her.”
The Queenstown-based security worker says he’s frustrated that after ticking all the boxes, it’s now the system that’s failed him.
“It’s not my mistake, it’s from their side,” he said. “I have spent so much money, time and everything. Please, sort it out - please, please, please.”