Guest Post: Overseas Kiwis rep’s reject Deputy PM’s MIQ claims

A guest post by Shannon Lindsay:

Representatives for overseas New Zealanders, including Charlotte Bellis’ lawyer,  dispute Grant Robertson’s claims that MIQ staff are helpful and communicative.

The Deputy Prime Minister said during Tuesday’s [1 February 2022] post-cabinet press conference that MIQ staff, regarding emergency applications, “always try to make contact with people and try to make arrangements that work.” He added: “They continually communicate with people who apply.”

Grounded Kiwis spokesperson Alexandra Birt listened to Robertson’s comments and “couldn’t believe my ears”.

“I have helped countless people who have been declined emergency allocations, all of whom received a generic template decline email, no specific reasons for their decline, and definitely no offer of additional support,” she said.

“In some cases, even after multiple follow-ups from the emergency applicant, the decline came through after the date that the person was meant to travel — of course meaning they had missed their flights.

“These are emergency applicants. Vulnerable, desperate, and in highly emotional situations — and yet the system couldn’t be more devoid of empathy if it tried.”

Tudor Clee, the pro bono lawyer who has represented pregnant Kiwi journalist Charlotte Bellis and others in similar situations, also rejects Robertson’s claims.

“Having read the communications between MIQ and over 30 families making pregnancy applications, I unequivocally reject his assertion,” he said.

“MIQ staff have no medical qualification and are, by definition, making obstetric decisions. In a majority of cases they ask for information already supplied or information that is nonsensical or medically irrelevant.

“In 87 per cent of pregnancy cases it has been followed by a rejection that often fails to explain why the supporting documentation was inadequate, leaving the parents-to-be distraught and in limbo.

“The communications are just disgraceful,” he said.

Ten ex-patriate New Zealanders I contacted via the Grounded Kiwis Facebook group confirmed they had received little assistance from MIQ with their emergency applications.

An teacher stuck in Japan, who has multiple medical reasons to return to New Zealand and did not wish to be named, has had his applications for an emergency MIQ spot turned down several times.

“MIQ has been a nightmare to deal with, I’ve basically been doing it full time for the past month of back and forth and trying to get in contact with a real person by phone to discuss my situation,” he said.

“All replies from every avenue has just been generic copy and paste ‘tough shit’ sort of vibe. A bureaucratic, dehumanised wall to bash your head on.

“Also, I don’t see what grounds they have or qualifications to interpret my own medical needs.”

Malcolm Mitchell, a Kiwi IT consultant based in Melbourne, applied for an MIQ emergency spot to attend his father’s funeral on 10 January this year.

“I received generic emails and then I was told, ‘We are unlikely to approve applications under the exceptional circumstances category to attend a funeral or tangihanga where there may be multiple people gathered. This would create an unacceptable risk of potential COVID-19 transmission’,” he said. I can confirm that MIQ did email Mitchell that response.

“Yet exemptions were granted for a DJ to play at a music festival and many other entertainers and sports people.”

An MIQ spokesperson said: “MIQ is sympathetic to the difficult circumstances many New Zealanders are experiencing due to the global pandemic. We understand it is a stressful time for travellers applying for Emergency Allocations of MIQ vouchers.

“MIQ undertakes much of its communication with applicants via email, as this is the most effective and timely way for us to communicate given the high number of applicants, international time zones, and the amount of information that often needs to be communicated. We use email as our primary method of communication to ensure a fair and consistent process, which is particularly important when such crucial decisions are being made.

“We have a dedicated team who work just on emergency allocation requests. They work hard to ensure everyone is treated fairly. They work seven days a week to ensure that applications are turned around as quickly as possible, and the distressing situations facing some of the people who apply are not ignored. We encourage people to carefully read the criteria and make sure all the relevant supporting information is included upfront in their initial application. This will ensure faster processing and less need for us to seek additional information, which slows the process down. “We are currently experiencing very high volumes of Emergency Allocation requests due to widespread travel delays around the world and the delay to Step 1 of Reconnecting New Zealand. If people have submitted an application, we appreciate their patience and will be in contact with them as soon as we can.”

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