As rooms in MIQ are kept aside during this outbreak for emergencies and Delta isolation, Kiwis abroad are being asked to not come home for a summer holiday once the new MIQ booking system lands
Booking a room in MIQ is soon to become an entirely different process.
For most of this year, people trying to get into New Zealand have been forced to grapple with a frustrating MIQ booking system that requires them to sit in front of the computer for hours on end, refreshing the reservation page – or outsource the labour to mysterious third parties who would take cash to alert them of openings as they come up.
The system has left Kiwis and migrants stuck overseas and essential job posts in the country unfilled.
At the moment, only emergency allocation vouchers are on offer due to the outbreak, meaning only a very small sliver of Kiwis and migrants trying to enter the country through MIQ will have the opportunity.
For most of these people, trying and failing to come home is nothing new.
Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins said he acknowledges how difficult it has been for New Zealanders abroad trying to get home, but asked that they “play their part” and be patient during the voucher pause.
He also stressed that emergency allocation vouchers remain available. However, the stringent criteria for this generally requires a literally life-or-death situation, so this will not apply to many people.
Special categories of people who had previously been approved for entry can expect deferment. “That includes some of the regional seasonal employment workers who were due to be coming in over the course of this coming month,” Hipkins said. “So that we can further ease pressure on our MIQ system.”
But speaking from the Beehive today, Hipkins announced the MIQ booking system would look very different once vouchers were released again – presumably once the threat of the current Delta outbreak has abated.
Virtual queues and lobbies are on the way. This means once vouchers are available, users trying to get hold of them will join a virtual lobby.
The site will then randomly select people from the lobby to receive a room.
While there will still surely be room for frustration due to the random nature of the system, this will certainly reduce the ability of users with automated scripts to jump to the head of the queue and hopefully make the amount of rooms in supply and users in demand clearer.
Hipkins said it will “remove the need to be the fastest person to hit the button”.
However, Hipkins cautioned Kiwis overseas that if they were seeking to return to the country on a temporary basis, they should leave the vouchers to others.
This is due to his acknowledgement the new system will not fix the issue of supply versus demand.
“It is still going to be the case that we won’t have rooms for everybody that wants to come home,” he said. “But this change will make bookings more transparent and easier for people.”
He said there will be more vouchers released before the end of the year, but said people should be aware of the high level of demand.
“Those who were hoping to have a summer holiday in New Zealand, my request of them is to leave the vouchers to those who really need to come home and are coming home for good,” he said. “Now is not a good time to come home for a holiday with the intention of returning back to where you are. We do need you to play your part.”
Tim Malone, founder of the Kiwis Coming Home group on Facebook, which provides advice for people trying to return to the country, said anything had to be better than the current system.
“At least it would get rid of being the fastest on the button,” he said. “But there’s still some devil in the detail that we don’t know yet.”
He wondered if the new system would still allow people to hold multiple bookings with no consequence.
“Is there going to be more than one lobby at a time?” Malone asked.
The lack of a fee to use the system has made it easy for users to create several accounts, increasing their chance of netting a room, but disadvantaging others. Hipkins’ announcement failed to address if the new system would mean the end of this.
Immigration adviser Katy Armstrong wondered why a queue was being implemented after months of the Government saying queues would merely push the problem up the pipeline.
“They said it wasn’t possible, queues would only push the problem upstream,” she said. “So how come the u-turn?”
Joint Head of MIQ Megan Main was pessimistic about queuing systems back in July, although she did say the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment was looking into all options.
“One of the challenges of the waitlist is it pushes the problem further up the pipeline,” Main said. “We don’t want people who don’t need vouchers anymore because their plans have changed staying on a waitlist which means people are waiting months for a voucher.”
Armstrong hoped the new system would come with a new commitment to clarity.
“At this stage, with the grim prospects of having to live with reduced MIQ for some time, we really need total transparency at this point of precisely who is going into these rooms,” she said, pointing to the rooms set aside for foreign workers on their way to Antarctica, and Dubai Expo hopefuls Six60.