A tightened list of approved vaccines and the Ministry of Health only accepting identity documents from Australia and New Zealand mean the vaccine pass is harder to get hold of for many immigrants
Medical student Afiqah Ramizi has been in New Zealand around seven years.
As an international student, she has been able to use her Malaysian passport as proof of her identity – necessary for things like signing up for classes.
Documents like passports, birth certificates and sometimes even drivers’ licences are generally accepted around the world as a way for somebody to prove their identity.
That’s why Ramizi was so surprised to find out yesterday that identity documents would only be accepted from New Zealand and Australian citizens in the process of getting a vaccine pass.
As national president of the New Zealand International Students Association, Ramizi wants to know why the Government is making it difficult for fully-vaccinated international students to get proof of vaccination – a roadblock that has already caused chaos as foreign health workers yesterday were unable to prove they were obeying the mandate and denied entry to work.
“The system requires a form of document for verification of identity, but it only has the options for New Zealand and Australia,” said Ramizi. “There is no option for migrants to submit any other forms of identifying documents, such as an international passport.”
In order to get a vaccine pass, users can provide any of the following in order to prove their identity: a New Zealand driver’s licence, passport, birth certificate, citizenship certificate, or an Australian passport or birth certificate.
Although it was not clear on the website what people without these documents could do, the Ministry of Health later clarified that there is an 0800 number they can call to get them through the process.
But according to Ramizi, hold-ups on the phone line and then waiting for the bureaucratic wheels to turn meant a number of foreign workers were unable to go about their essential work yesterday – all of which reflects a lack of trust from the Government.
“NZISA received upsetting emails yesterday that a few people working in healthcare and education were denied entry from work because they couldn’t provide a vaccine pass,” said Ramizi.
And with 12,300 non-New Zealand citizens moving to New Zealand during 2020 and almost a third of the country born overseas, this is liable to affect a significant chunk of the country.
“Many of us international students have been here in this country for many years,” said Ramizi. “To simply exclude us from the system is essentially segregating migrants from the team of five million. This is extremely frustrating and disappointing for the international student and migrant communities.”
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Health said the 0800 number with language interpreters was there for people who were fully-vaccinated but didn’t have one of the six documents, saying “the six options provided are those that we can use securely to validate and trust proof of identity”.
But this is the sticking point for Ramizi and the NZISA, who want to know why their overseas passports and birth certificates are suddenly not deemed trustworthy by the New Zealand Government.
“It’s nothing new for a ministry to take a look at our information and cross-check it with other ministries like Immigration New Zealand,” she said.
Instead, the system makes access to vaccine passes more difficult for international students.
“We are very appalled and shocked by this. It is supposed to be a system accessible and applicable for everyone who is in New Zealand,” said Ramizi. “Yet, the system has failed us. We hope the Ministry of Health will change this, and reflect the actual population of the team of five million.”
And people who were vaccinated overseas may be out of luck completely.
While the Ministry of Health records all 23 of the vaccines approved for entry requirements into the country, at present only eight of these will afford the vaccinated a vaccine pass.
At the moment, people with Pfizer/BioNTech, Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), AstraZeneca (Oxford), AstraZeneca/Covishield (Serum Institute of India), Moderna, Sinopharm, Sinovac (CoronaVac), Covaxin (Bharat Biotech) can get the pass – although it may take up to two weeks for it to reach them if they got the vaccine overseas.
People who received other vaccines, such as the Russian-developed Sputnik V, are considered by the ministry to be vaccinated enough to enter the country, but not vaccinated enough to be granted a pass.
A New Zealand citizen who recently returned from Russia, where he received two doses of the Sputnik vaccine, says he has been given the run-around by the Ministry of Health.
“I gave them a translated document proving my vaccination and signed by my GP, which was enough to get my vaccination on the record but not enough for the pass,” he said. “What’s the point of me sending it to them, then?”
He received a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine after returning to New Zealand, but said both his GP and the Ministry of Health cautioned against a fourth dose.
And with deadline fast approaching after which he will need the pass for his work, he has been left frustrated and let down by the ministry’s lack of response.
“At this point, it’s just a waiting game.”