With the unveiling of the MIQ virtual lobby booking system this morning, Kiwis trying to get home are starting to wonder if they ever actually will

A few weeks ago, the announcement of a virtual lobby and queue system coming to the MIQ booking system got hopes up worldwide – from migrants trying to get to their new lives in New Zealand, and Kiwis trying to get home.

But this morning as the virtual lobby opened and sorted people randomly into a queue, it was soon realised that getting one’s hands on a room is still more easily said than done, with a group the size of Timaru also at the lolly scramble.

MIQ released 3000 rooms this morning, but with the queue reaching up to more than 27,000 people, it seems nine in 10 can expect to walk away disappointed.

Minister for Covid-19 Response Chris Hipkins told people last week they could expect next batches to be 4000 rooms.

However, a spokesperson from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment cautioned that because many rooms had already been allocated before the recent pause and facilities may need maintenance, the timing and size of future releases is still being worked on.

Users on the Facebook group Kiwis Coming Home were quick to express their dismay at the new system. “I think it’s safe to say the MIQ system is utterly inadequate to meet the needs of Kiwis who need to travel,” said one user, while another wondered if it was time to change the name of the group to Kiwis Not Coming Home.

The message users see before joining the lobby warns them not to get their hopes up too high – although MIQ’s warning seems to be in a different order of magnitude than the reality.

“Please note: there may be hundreds of people ahead of you in the queue,” it says, before delivering the user into a queue of almost 30,000.

Hipkins took pains last week to warn Kiwis stuck abroad that the virtual lobby was no “silver bullet”, and that the same issues with supply versus demand would remain – raising questions about why nothing has been done to address them.

Travel reservation system consultant Mike Moore, who has been trying to get rooms in the system himself for months now, had questions last week about the new system.

“What we need to know is: How many bookings with unallocated spaces already exist, and is any weighting given to how long someone has been waiting or is it a lottery?”

Today it was confirmed by the experience of tens of thousands of users that one’s place in the queue would not be held over until the next tranche of released rooms – meaning it’s going to be a total lucky dip each time.

Crystal Hay has been trying to find a room for her mother to come home from the United States, but like most people, she logged on to the new system this morning and found thousands of people still ahead of her.

She wonders why users can’t keep their place in line for next time.

“I’ve just been told that you get re-sorted in the queue with each release,” she said. “If that’s the case, I’ve lost hope for getting mum home before Christmas.”

She said the reshuffle goes against people’s understanding of what a queue is.

“Sorry, but that’s incredibly bullshit. Queue implies that I would get to line up and eventually reach the front. I truly thought that since a queue ID has been issued at the bottom of the window, it would make sense to be able to be allocated a place in line.”

But outside of the first few thousand people, it seems the queue is more of a muddled crowd, waiting without much hope of picking up a room today. And next time, it will be the same.

MIQ aims to start releasing rooms four to six months before arrival dates, with 40 percent of rooms initially released and the remaining 60 percent gradually released in batches each month up to the arrival date. They warned that timing is dependent on what is happening with Covid more broadly and therefore this release schedule may not always be possible.

Other members of Kiwis Coming Home wanted to know when a different plan may be introduced for the fully vaccinated, such as less time in MIQ or self-isolation.

“Have they put a timeframe on when fully vaccinated can self-isolate, thus side stepping this madness?” asked one user.

Hipkins referenced future plans for MIQ when he announced the lobby system, saying that while there is potential by early next year for there to be different requirements for the fully-vaccinated, people trying to come home could expect demand to exceed supply until at least the end of this year.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow for Kiwis trying to get back home before Christmas.
“Wish I was the Black Caps right now,” said one member of the group.

Matthew Scott covers immigration, urban development and Auckland issues.

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