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Quick-changing border rules strand migrant workers

May 20, 2020

Quick-changing border rules strand migrant workers

SHUCHI BHARDWAJ WITH HER FIANCÉ IN NEW ZEALAND. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Border closures are stopping hundreds of Kiwi migrant workers who are desperate to fly back to their homes in New Zealand.

Shuchi Bhardwaj is one of many that unions say have been let down, "slipping through the cracks" despite legislation existing to help them.

The Auckland pastry chef is stuck in Tanzania after New Zealand border rules changed during her travels.

Ms Bhardwaj has lived in New Zealand since 2016 and is still paying rent for the apartment she shares with her fiancé in Auckland.

If she can’t return, Ms Bhardwaj will be deported to India despite having never lived there or having any family or relations in the country, due to her birthright Indian citizenship and only holding a visitor visa for Tanzania.

“This whole situation has been extremely strenuous on both of us all mentally, emotionally and financially,” Ms Bhardwaj told TWN.

“My suitcases are still packed just waiting to come back to NZ.”

She is not receiving any subsidy or compensation because she holds a working visa for New Zealand.

“I met the requirements for being able to come home, but I wasn’t allowed to get on my second flight,” said Ms Bhardwaj.

She flew to Tanzania to visit family on February 29 and after hearing about the border closure for New Zealand, changed her returning flight to the cut-off date of March 19.

During her travels back home, the requirement was that passengers needed to be checked into their flight by 11.59pm, which she had done.

But she was denied entry to her connecting flight because the rules had changed again - passengers had to have already boarded their flight by that time.

“I was stranded at Dubai airport and was forced to take a $5000 flight back to Tanzania.”

Ms Bhardwaj has applied for an exemption flight back to Auckland multiple times through email, but has been denied within 5 minutes of sending them.

She is worried about deportation because her visiting visa for Tanzania ends on May 29.

The Tanzania Government is shutting hotels that tourists are staying at, in an attempt to force them to leave the country, says the New Zealand worker.

E Tu union organiser Sher Singh says there are hundreds of cases like this and that it is unfortunate the Government is not taking care of workers like Ms Bhardwaj.

“I am disgusted. It feels like migrant workers are being used and abused."

Mandeep Singh Bela, co-ordinator of Union Network of Migrants and the Indian Workers Association says there are areas that the Government could have done better.

Section 64 of the Social Security Act was made for this purpose. When else are they going to use it? It was the Government’s chance to step up.”

New Zealand's emergency laws says the Ministry of Social Development may, with the written approval of the Minister, grant emergency benefits to people who would not otherwise be entitled to such support.

A petition has been launched to enact Section 64 of the Social Security Act.

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