Migrants are selling their belongings, begging for money and living in garages after losing their jobs during lockdown.
A mother with a two-month-old baby broke down in tears as she described her family’s nightmare waiting for a visa to arrive.
“I’m selling all my stuff on Facebook market so I have money to buy my baby diapers and formula and then I asked the food bank donation so we have food,” said Tarri, who arrived from the Philippines in 2010.
“This isn’t supposed to be happening because my husband has a good pay, and me. We are both working, we’re not lazy, I can’t believe it.”
Her daughter was a toddler when they arrived and she is now 15.
“I feel sorry to my daughter as well because, you know, she arrived here when she was three years old. She studied here since kindy and she knows the culture in New Zealand, not my culture,” she said.
“But I said to my daughter, you know, ‘we did our best, we did our best. I said, you saw Daddy study hard while working. And you know I’m working hard, not like an easy job. But it didn’t work, I’m really sorry’.”
Her husband is an electrical engineer and his company needs him back. She said she felt embarassed to be begging for food and money.
“We came here to work, you know, not for benefits – that’s for locals. You have to live on your own feet. But I know to myself, we deserve that because we’ve been here so long, we’ve worked, my husband paid big tuition fees and I only ask for small help. I’m not asking for help forever, only while we are waiting the result of our visa.”
Migrant Action Trust manager Amie Maga said the government had introduced an emergency benefit for migrants, but that expired at the end of August, just two weeks after the latest outbreak.
From their experience and community groups they work with, hundreds of foreign workers and international students cannot work while they wait for visas, or have lost their jobs during the latest Covid outbreak.
They want a temporary benefit brought back in, helping to tide migrants over until their visa arrives or lockdown finishes.
“We really hope that opens up and they consider using the available funds, not just for repatriation but for migrants in hardship. It’s really unfortunate that the emergency benefit was cut in August just when the migrants needed it most. It’s a really tough time for them. Some are living in garages.”
Their work is not funded by the government, and while it has support from a philanthropic grant it is not enough to help all the migrants who would need it.
Arun had been without income for three months while he waited for a visa to start a new job.
“For six years, I’m working working working every day, for the past three or four months due to the lockdown I’m sitting at home and waiting for the visa. I don’t have any money, the community trust people are helping with the groceries and kind of some of bill payments.
“Luckily, my wife is on a student visa and she’s doing a part time job with $300, but for $300 we can’t survive. It’s so tough for the migrants waiting for the visas for a long time. The government has to look for the migrants, they’re helping to the whole country, paying the proper tax, we are frontline workers too.”
He is one of the lucky ones, getting his visa through this week – but 1200 others are waiting on applications for essential skills visas lodged before the lockdown.
The community trust that had helped him said it had its funding cut, he said.
Social development minister Carmel Sepuloni said the emergency benefit was only a short-term measure to help people before they could go home, such as seasonal Pacific workers. Only 60-80 people were on the benefit when it finished in August.
“If there were or are organisations that are providing support to our communities in the form of hardship support of this nature and not being supported to do so then I certainly would want to know who they were,” she said.
“My understanding is that they were provided with MSD support – some directly, some through the New Zealand food distribution network.”
Last year, local civil defence handed out rations to migrants, and later a government and Red Cross scheme helped 11,000 people. By May this year, the government had spent $112,000 of a $900,000 allocation to repatriate migrants who could not afford plane tickets to fly back to their home countries.
Immigration New Zealand said in a statement it streamlined the process for renewing essential skills visas in July.
“This means that if an individual wants to extend their Essential Skills visa, they can do so if they stay with their current employer, in the same role, and the same location,” its border and visa general manager, Nicola Hogg, said.
“The employer will then no longer need to meet a labour market test, and applicants and employers can make declarations in place of providing evidence to show requirements are met.
“As alert levels drop, some staff will be in most of Immigration New Zealand’s offices receiving and processing priority temporary visa application categories. Please expect some delays.
“Most of our staff continue to work remotely and are focusing on processing online applications such as Essential Skills visas. We strongly encourage applicants to use online channels where available.”