Stranded work visa holders' plea to return

Temporary work visa holders stranded across the world "with just a suitcase" have banded together...
Temporary work visa holders stranded across the world "with just a suitcase" have banded together to make a heartbreaking plea to return to their homes in New Zealand. Photo: Supplied via NZ Herald
A life in limbo. A fiance separated from their partner. A job waiting at home.

These are some of the heartbreaking situations people are facing as they remain stranded in overseas "with just a suitcase".

Temporary work visa holders stuck in countries across the world have banded together to raise awareness of their plight.

A group of 30 migrants, who have resided in New Zealand for periods ranging from months to years, have made a video, pleading with the Government to let them return to their homes in New Zealand.

When the Covid-19 pandemic reached New Zealand it sparked the country to go into lockdown and enforce border closures, only allowing permanent residents and citizens to return.

Since then, temporary work visa holders from across the globe have not been unable to return to their homes in New Zealand.

The group who made the video, migrants stuck outside New Zealand, started from a small WhatsApp group of stranded temporary work visa holders in Brazil who eagerly waited for news from the Government after the border closure announcements.

But after a few weeks passed, they were disheartened to receive no updates and decided they needed to take things into their own hands and raise awareness. Using the power of social media, they were able to connect with other stranded migrants and their group expanded.

From there, migrants from a variety of nationalities and ages decided to share their stories in a heartbreaking video.

In it, they explain they want to return back to their lives, families and homes and praise Ardern's work on Covid-19 in New Zealand.

They explain that they left the country prior to the pandemic for various reasons including taking a vacation to see family members or attending funerals to bury loved ones.

They said many of them tried to return home, but were unable to because of flight cancellations.

"We currently don't have the permission to return to our lives in New Zealand. Nor do we even have a notion of when this may change," the migrants collectively say.

"We are not resident or citizens on paper, however we are Kiwis in our hearts."

They explain while they are stuck overseas they are still paying rent and bills for their homes in New Zealand. They say their employers are waiting for them to return and that all their belongings are still at their homes.

They explain they respect New Zealand's laws, culture and nature and are willing to follow safety protocol and even to pay for their own self-isolation quarantines.

"We are willing to do anything it takes to get us home."

A representative for the group told the Herald: "While we understand the need for border closures in New Zealand's efforts to eradicate Covid-19, we also feel that some thought should be spared for those unfairly disadvantaged by these unfortunate circumstances.

"At this point, all of us have been locked out of our homes and residing in temporary lodging for more than two months.

"These are uncertain and scary times for everyone, and we appreciate that it may take some time before we can go back home, but at this point, there is no indication or information available on when [or if] we will even be allowed back home."

The group hopes the video will get the Government's attention and that it will reconsider border closure rules to allow temporary work visa holders to return to New Zealand.

They also shared the video to put a face to the label 'temporary work visa holders'.

"[We wanted] to show others that we are not just a statistic or number but actual people with our own stories," the representative said.

"We are not evil monsters who want to steal Kiwi jobs, we are human beings who are an active part of society and hold legitimate jobs and are part of the community, and denying us access to our homes and personal belongings is just cruel."

"We are migrant workers who have contributed to New Zealand's economy. Many of us still pay taxes and continue to pay rent and bills for houses. Some of us have young children enrolled in New Zealand schools.

"Some of us have unfortunately lost our jobs but have important personal belongings left behind in New Zealand when their lives got turned upside down. Everyone has a different story but we are all caught in the same desperate situation."

One of the creators of the group, Yu Ting Mak, started a petition on May 5, eight days after New Zealand moved to alert level 3 of the lockdown.

It asks Parliament to urge the Government to lift border restrictions against holders of temporary work visas, like the Essential Skills Work Visa, with existing jobs and lives in New Zealand, so that those caught outside New Zealand when the lockdown was enforced can return.

"I was incredibly anxious and was hoping for some updates regarding our situation when NZ got out of level 4. However, no updates were made and I decided to create the petition to increase awareness about our plight," Mak told the Herald.

Mak said viral videos aside, some of the group are working on other efforts as well, like writing letters and reaching out to MPs.

Speaking about the "Migrants stuck outside of New Zealand" Facebook page, Mak said she and her partner made it to host the video and post updates about their cause.

Here are the stories of migrants stranded overseas who are desperate to come home.

Regina Momoe Kawaguti and Thomas

Regina Momoe Kawaguti (34) went to Cambodia with her boyfriend for a 10 day trip in March and was due to return to New Zealand on March 22 when they were caught by the border closure. They are now stranded indefinitely in a foreign land.

Kawaguti has lived in Queenstown for almost three years and holds a work visa. The couple met in Queenstown and have only known a life together there.

They are now in an indefinite state of limbo as her boyfriend, who is a builder, just had his contract terminated.

The couple continues to pay rent for their house in Queenstown where they have all their belongings.

"We don't know how long we can afford to pay for our expenses," Kawaguti said.

"My employer is desperate to have me back to work. My boyfriend has family there. Two brothers and two little nephews. They are worried about us and missing us!"

They have been trying every day since lockdown to return to their homes in New Zealand and are desperately needing some certainty.

Thomas Schmider

Thomas Schmider (29) has lived in New Zealand since 2016 and is currently on a work to residence visa. He got caught by the border restriction when he was visiting family in Germany.

"I respect New Zealand and am happy to follow any health and safety measures to make sure that the people around me are safe," he said.

Thomas has specialised skills and works as an SEO manager at Online Republic, based in Auckland. He has built a life in Auckland and strongly believes in contributing back to the community.

As the president of Auckland Handball, he helps bring communities together
through sport. In the past year, the team has contributed in establishing handball as a sport in schools all around Auckland- St. Peters College, Westlake Girls, AGC Parnell & Te Kura (Correspondence School) are just some of them.

"I do miss my friends, sport and work which is a big part of my support system," he said.

"Besides the struggles that everyone is going through due to Covid-19 the hardest part at the moment is not knowing when I will be able to return."

Yu Ting Mak, and Noreen M Wong

Mak (29) is from Singapore and is on the Essential Skills visa. She, along with her partner, Noreen M Wong (27), were stranded in Singapore when they were ironically visiting to retrieve some important documents needed for their residency application.

"We were aware of the evolving pandemic situation, and we even anticipated that we might experience a delayed return in the event that we did come into contact, or even got the virus, but we never thought that we would be denied entry back into our own homes," Mak said.

"We landed to news of border closure in New Zealand and there was no time to make preparations and book return flights. We are stuck in a limbo, living out of a suitcase.

"I feel like we've been put through a cruel situation in constant uncertainty. I'm still working for my Auckland-based company from Singapore, helping Kiwi brands like Countdown and Les Mills improve their website experience.

"I'm still paying for my taxes and rent but yet here I am, being neglected by the system."

Gabriela Alves Correa

Gabriela Alves Correa is from Brazil but has lived in New Zealand for three years. She was in Brazil to visit family in February 2020 and was due to return. Correa is currently separated from her fiance who is still in New Zealand.

"It is really sad to be away from my fiance who is waiting for me, we still believe that we can live our life together again and continue with our dreams and plans," she said.

She has tried but failed to get a travel exception from INZ to reunite with her partner.

"I need to go back to New Zealand to resume my life. My fiancé, my friends, job, they need me and they are waiting for me. I left everything there, my room, clothes, everything that I built these years."

Thiago Gonçalves Sousa, Maira Cristina Ferreira Sousa and Milla Ferreira Sousa

"We are in Brazil and we arrived on March 10, 2020. We have lived in New Zealand for almost four years and we have been on working visas.

"We need to go back to New Zealand because our life is there now, we have jobs, our house where we keep paying the rent and bills.

"My wife is not sure if she will still have clients when she comes back because of the long time without work and our daughter who must have already lost her spot in daycare because we haven't returned yet."

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