The most obvious and immediate impact is that Chinese citizen employees are now delayed in returning from their Chinese New Year holiday, due to the travel ban.
There has been an Air New Zealand rescue flight, to help people leave the city of Wuhan. However, our understanding is that this was only available to New Zealand citizens and their immediate family. New Zealand resident visa holders could not leave, unless they have a New Zealand citizen family member travelling with them. Most Chinese citizens do not become New Zealand citizens, even if New Zealand is their main home, because they must then relinquish their Chinese citizenship. Instead they maintain their resident status for many years. This could mean that many New Zealanders, simply because they have never formally obtained citizenship, were unable to leave China on the rescue flight.
Also, although the government has advised that the travel ban does not prevent family members of New Zealanders arriving here, this is not quite correct. Unless those family members have obtained residence, they must be travelling with their New Zealand partner when they try to enter New Zealand. This has meant that some families are forcibly separated. For example, we are aware of the wife of a New Zealand citizen, who cannot leave China and return to her husband here in New Zealand, because she has not yet obtained residence, just a work visa. Therefore, unless her husband somehow manages to fly to China, to collect her and travel back with her, she cannot return to New Zealand.
Also, migrant employees may be anxious about their families, including family members who are in New Zealand. They are now unable to return to China, and so risk overstaying their visas. INZ is considering how it will assist these people to obtain further visas, but we have had many calls from individuals worried about family members who are here visiting, over the Chinese New Year holiday, and are now unable to leave before their visas expire.
Other potential effects
There are also other potential effects, which are less immediately obvious.
All migrant employees, who are renewing or applying for their first visas, may experience further delays with their visa applications. This is because Immigration New Zealand’s processing branch, in Beijing, is temporarily closed due to the virus. This branch processes a lot of work visa applications, not just ones from China. Immigration New Zealand has redistributed the cases, but as many applications are already delayed, processing times are likely to be even longer.
In the longer term, the government may choose to add additional screening tests into the medicals required for all visa applicants, once more about the virus is known. These tests may take additional time to be completed, simply due to the demand on health systems across the world. Indeed, applicants may have difficulty getting appointments with authorised Immigration New Zealand doctors.
There may be increased delays, and paperwork, for visa applicants going forward, until this situation is resolved. However, New Zealand’s immigration system is more proactive and better at reacting to difficult circumstances, than many others around the world, as was seen following the attacks on the Christchurch mosque. Therefore, we have every confidence that Immigration New Zealand will be quick to publish clear guidance, to assist and reassure migrant employees and their families.
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