'Stuck in the US': Southern sailor still cannot get MIQ spot

Mariner Bruce Blackburn, stuck aboard a ship and unable to get home to New Zealand. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Mariner Bruce Blackburn. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Southern sailor Bruce Blackburn has managed to get off the logging vessel he had been stranded on for several weeks while unable to get an emergency quarantine spot in New Zealand.

However, his luck has not changed for the better.

The Otago Daily Times highlighted Mr Blackburn’s plight last month, after he needed to return to New Zealand for urgent back surgery but was ruled ineligible by MIQ administrators the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) for an emergency medical exemption to get a quarantine place.

After several weeks stuck aboard his last contracted vessel trying to negotiate a way to get home, he has now made it to dry land in the United States, but only because he needed emergency dental surgery.

‘‘I was removed from the boat in Sacramento to be taken to San Francisco for urgent dental intervention, which resulted in tooth surgery and removal.

‘‘I am now stuck in the US on a limited time emergency B1 visa, which runs out October 20, and US customs and border police have advised me that l will likely be arrested on October 21 as an overstayer.’’

He did not want to renew his temporary US visa and simply wanted to come home before he was deported, he said.

If he was deported and subsequently deemed unable to enter the US, he would struggle to secure work in his field anywhere else in the world, Mr Blackburn said.

The sailor, who has bombarded the MBIE with requests for an emergency MIQ slot for several weeks, remains locked in a battle with the department, which has turned down his many requests for emergency help for not meeting its criteria.

In an email from the MBIE supplied by Mr Blackburn, his latest request also failed to find favour.

‘‘While you have provided evidence that your visa will expire on October 20, 2021, as explained above, visa expiry alone is not grounds for an emergency allocation,’’ MBIE said.

‘‘Instead, as per the evidence required stated above, the applicant must have attempted unsuccessfully to extend or convert their visa, and have no option than to return to New Zealand.

‘‘As you had not applied for an extension or conversion, you had not provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate that you were unable to legally remain in your current location., and we therefore could not approve your application.’’

Mr Blackburn said the MBIE was applying criteria relevant to a tourist rather than a seafarer and had asked for his application to be reconsidered.

The MBIE told him it was doing its best to ensure eligible people were able to return to New Zealand and it recognised he might remain dissatisfied with the outcome of his application.

‘‘You will need to obtain a voucher for managed isolation through the standard process to facilitate your return to New Zealand,’’ it said.