Kiwis unable to get home are baffled at the news that 30 Australians a month will be able to get home from the islands by transiting in New Zealand

New instructions from Immigration New Zealand allowing Australians to isolate for 14 days in New Zealand on their way home have raised the eyebrows of groups up against the MIQ system.

Announced via a circular to all holders of the New Zealand Immigration operational manual last Wednesday, the plan grants border exemptions to 30 Australians a month until the end of the year.

These Australian citizens and permanent residents will need to find space in New Zealand’s MIQ system and isolate for 14 days, before boarding a flight across the Tasman.

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Immigration New Zealand said the new border exception is for Australians with limited options for travel who are seeking to return to Australia.

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which is managing the deal with Australia, said it would be reciprocal across the two countries.

“A process is being developed by Australia and New Zealand to enable the return home of each other’s nationals that are currently stranded in a small number of Pacific countries where there are no direct flight options,” an MFAT spokesperson said. “The process will not provide a MIQ allocation and nominated Australian travellers would still be required to obtain and pay for a MIQ voucher in the usual way.”

The ministry spokesperson said details of the bilateral agreement are still being worked out.

“When quarantine-free travel from Australia commenced, a number of airlines chose to no longer operate trans-Tasman ‘red’ flights,” they said. “One of the requirements to be eligible for QFT-flights, is that travellers must have been in New Zealand (or Australia) for at least 14 days.

“All arrivals from the Cook Islands and Niue are not required to enter MIQ on arrival. However, in order to travel on to Australia a traveller must spend 14 days in New Zealand to be eligible for a quarantine-free flight to Australia. This is an Australian Government requirement.”

But immigration advisers want to know why Australians are being given preferential treatment at the border.

Iain MacLeod, a New Zealand immigration adviser, is currently stuck in Queensland waiting for the chance to return home. He wants to know why the Government is allowing Australians through the border while Kiwis are still struggling to get home.

“I cannot imagine our Australian cousins reciprocating,” he said, giving the example of New Zealanders in Australia having to pay for their vaccinations while thousands of Australians who call New Zealand home get the jab for free.

A spokesperson from MIQ stressed that these border exceptions don’t mean rooms have been set aside specially for Australians.

“Almost all travellers to New Zealand must have a Managed Isolation Allocation System voucher securing their place in a managed isolation facility or they will not be able to board their flight, unless they have an exemption,” the spokesperson said. “No rooms have been set aside.”

The move was revealed via a document sent to immigration lawyers and travel agents last week, detailing the change, as well as changes to simplify the process needed for Australian citizens and permanent residents to travel to New Zealand during border restrictions.

The changes come along with a move to allow essential travel from a number of Pacific Island countries into New Zealand and then onward. In the period from May to November, 100 people plus their families are allowed to travel from the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa, Tokelau and Tonga.

Immigration New Zealand’s instructions do not mention these Pacific Islanders going through MIQ in New Zealand, and did not provide an answer as to why the Australian travellers would.

MacLeod said he understood how Australians currently stuck in countries with no direct flights home may need to come via New Zealand, and suggested the stay in MIQ may be necessary while they wait for a flight across the Tasman.

“If the flights from the Pacific Islands are few and far and there are no direct flights to Australia and Aussies needing to get home will need to transit in New Zealand for a while before they can get a flight home – they need MIQ,” he said. “It makes sense that they queue up like everyone else for the privilege.”

However, Air New Zealand continues to offer daily flights to Sydney and Melbourne, along with almost as frequent trips to Brisbane and Adelaide.

This allowance for Australian travellers happens as New Zealanders finding it difficult to return through MIQ are organising in protest.

Grounded Kiwis, a network of stranded New Zealanders, formed last week to call for a new approach to MIQ.

“We’ve had enough. New Zealanders at home and abroad cannot exercise their right of return,” spokesperson Alexandra Birt said in a press release. “Grounded Kiwis understand the importance of keeping New Zealand safe; we just want a system that works.”

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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