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Money can’t buy you love but it may help grease the rusty hinges of New Zealand’s borders.
Government briefing documents released amid New Zealand’s post-Covid immigration quagmire show that those wanting an exemption to enter New Zealand look set to get an easier ride if they earn a salary of $106,000 – twice New Zealand’s average wage – or more.
The documents, compiled by officials, tell Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway and Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford that there is a need to clarify just what an “other essential worker” is.
So-called “other essential workers” so far given exemptions to enter New Zealand, while borders are largely closed amid the Covid-19 pandemic, include workers for two films, including the Avatar sequels, a mushroom expert, critical infrastructure workers, a specialist veterinarian, and those delivering a naval vessel.
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Officials have now proposed that essential workers could be put into two groups – workers here less than six months and those here longer.
Those planning to stay longer than six months would have to fit one of three criteria.
Top of that list was that they earned at least twice New Zealand’s average wage – at least $106,000 per year. The wage was an indicator of “high skills”, the documents say.
They could also be granted exemptions if their role was essential for government-associated science projects, or essential for a government-approved major event.
The documents further revealed government officials were reviewing criteria to ensure high-value workers were not being kept out.
“We will also consider how border exemptions could apply to high-value investors and our trade obligations related to the entry of business people into New Zealand.”
They outlined the criteria that those wanting short-term exemptions would need to meet.
They needed to have a “unique experience and technical or specialist skills” such as having a key role in a film, an Antarctic specialist, or a yacht designer for an America’s Cup team.
They could also get in for a project that was “significant” – such as a $100m-plus infrastructure project, and the project would be stopped or severely compromised if they were not allowed in.
That will likely be of little help to Masterton woman Sheryn Scanlan’s 81-year-old husband Charles, who is stuck in England, with Immigration New Zealand not allowing him to change his visa to allow him to join his family.
Scanlan was upset that the Government seemed to be going to great lengths to allow essential workers into the country but was happy to continue to keep families split apart.
“It makes me feel very angry because surely people come first.”
Charles Scanlan, a UK citizen, had plans to join his Kiwi wife and adult daughter in New Zealand in March but was stopped at Heathrow Airport the day we closed our borders.
Sheryn Scanlan said it was not just a fairness issue, but in her husband’s case, a welfare concern as he was rapidly losing weight and his isolation in coronavirus-ravaged UK was affecting his mental health.
“They’ve got to be fair across the board. He’s all on his own and I’m really concerned for his health.”
An Immigration NZ spokeswoman said the changes to border exceptions, that were announced on Friday, came into effect the end of this week. Some changes to maritime border rules would come into effect later in June.
Lees-Galloway replied that the “‘other essential worker’ category is focused on those roles that can have a significant economic benefit to New Zealand, where a New Zealander is not available.
“The salary is an indicator of the level of skills required,” he said. “The vast majority of people allowed in on border exceptions are families reuniting, humanitarian and health workers – around 90 percent at present. These exceptions are not linked to salary.”