Justin Sobion said goodbye to his wife in February 2020 with the plan that she would come back to him in New Zealand three weeks later.
Almost 12 months later, the couple are still separated, trapped by the border closings in March.
Sobion is one of hundreds of people who are separated from their loved ones because their visa is defined as a temporary event even though they may have been in New Zealand for years.
People with qualified work or student visas cannot leave the country because they cannot return.
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However, your spouses, partners and children cannot join them, even if they lived in or have just come to New Zealand prior to the lockdown.
Abigail Dougherty / Stuff
Justin Sobion, a graduate student and tutor at the University of Auckland, thought he would be separated from his wife for three weeks. Almost 12 months later, he’s still waiting for her to return to New Zealand.
Polina Chernyshova had just applied for a visa for her partner when she was working on her PhD in engineering when the borders were closed.
“He cannot come to New Zealand and I cannot go to Russia to visit him because if I do, I cannot come back to study further. My scholarship will be canceled and I will lose my job. “
Immigration lawyer Katy Armstrong said the government had set clear priorities over the past year.
“The message was consistent that there was no space in the inn. But on the one hand you have these people who cannot see their families, on the other hand you have movie stars and TV show producers and athletes who are granted exemptions. “
Armstrong said immigration came at the expense of those who actually contributed to New Zealand and the economy.
The New Zealand Immigration Service has been asked to comment on the number of exemptions since the lockdown.
Abigail Dougherty / Stuff
Polina Chernyshova’s partner, a PhD student at AUT in the technical department, was in the process of applying for his visa when the ban came. When the borders closed, his application process was stopped.
Sobion and his wife Aurelie Sobion came to New Zealand in February 2019 to do a PhD in law from the University of Auckland.
In December 2019, the couple returned to Switzerland to spend time with Aurelie Sobion’s family.
When Sobion returned to New Zealand in February to fulfill his teaching duties, his wife decided to stay a little longer to spend time with their older grandparents.
However, her return flight shortly before the borders were closed was canceled.
“When I said goodbye to her I thought, wow, three weeks apart was so long,” he said.
Now Sobion just wants some clarity about when he might be able to see his wife again.
Immigration minister spokesman Kris Faafoi, in a written response to questions, said the government would continue to review immigration settings while ensuring that border controls remain an important first line of defense against the spread of Covid-19 in New Zealand.
“Unfortunately, it is not possible to specify specific timeframes as to whether or when changes to different visa categories might be possible, while the situation with Covid-19 in many parts of the world remains uncertain and carries serious risks,” said the spokesman.
He did not respond to questions from sports teams and people in the film and television industries who had been granted exemptions.
In September the government announced that it would allow exemptions for workers and student visas to allow families to return to New Zealand.
However, Sobion petitioned Immigration ruling that his wife did not meet all the criteria for return, he said.
After Sobion sold everything in Switzerland and spent years planning and requesting his research, he was reluctant to give up everything by leaving.
He’s also frustrated with the double standards at the border.
“If the government said, OK, only citizens and permanent residents are allowed, I would understand,” he said.
“But when you start creating exceptions for film crews and cricket teams. I really had a problem there. People have been granted exceptions that really have nothing to do with New Zealand. “
Sobion, originally from the West Indies, said he was disgusted by his national cricket team, which was allowed to enter New Zealand, and then violated the isolation rules.
Armstrong said she had heard of several cases from students and workers in positions similar to Sobion’s.
Immigration attorney Katy Armstrong says the migrants she works with just want clarity on when they may be able to reunite with their family.
“This cohort of students and international workers has not seen their families. How do we justify this to them? “
She said she worked with migrants who were nurses, clinical psychologists and teachers, many with partners and spouses who were equally highly skilled.
“It’s such a kick in the stomach. I spoke to math teachers who were encouraged to come here and who were paid by the government to come here because we had a shortage. They have to rock and teach our kids every day, but we’re not going to let them see theirs, “said Armstrong.
“We have nurses who want to go because they can’t bring their families here.”
Armstrong said the lack of information from the government was almost worse than the breakup, causing mental health problems for people who have been separated with no end in sight.
None of the migrants she spoke to expected their families to arrive before the citizens. They just wanted to get the green light so they could be sure when to come, she said.
Claiming keeping these families out does not protect New Zealand, Armstrong said.
“You would still have to go into isolation.”