‘Stateless’: New Zealanders working overseas struggle to return home

New Zealanders who work overseas say they are being locked out of the country by the managed isolation voucher system.

Seafarers and others working in offshore industries return to New Zealand regularly and say their uncertain travel schedule makes it near-impossible to book spaces in managed isolation.

As a result, they are being left “stateless” and stranded in other countries, they said.

Matt Daniels, a seafarer who works on offshore oil fields, left New Zealand in September, before the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) voucher system was introduced.

He is scheduled to disembark from his vessel in Malaysia on Saturday. Under that country’s rules, he must leave within three days or go into quarantine for two weeks.

However, he can only secure a voucher for isolation in New Zealand for December 11 – when he would still be in quarantine.

“For us, it’s just not practical,” he said. “We very rarely know what week we are getting off, let alone which day.”

The next available date for managed isolation was in mid to late-January. Daniels was due to head to another job in South East Asia in early January.

“As this is my regular employment I feel like I am being locked out of New Zealand,” he said. “I just want to get home when I’ve finished my work.”

Daniels applied for an emergency allocation in a managed isolation facility but was declined.

MIQ did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said in an email to Daniels that he did not meet the threshold for an emergency space.

“From the information provided we do not consider that there is an imminent threat to your life, or serious risk to your health, which can only be resolved by urgent travel to New Zealand.”

MIQ said there was “huge demand” for spaces in isolation before the Christmas holidays and there was limited capacity.

“We take these decisions extremely seriously, and there are many people who have chosen to travel or remain overseas during the global pandemic who are not able to return to New Zealand on their preferred date.”

Daniels had been based in the Philippines for the last seven years, but the country is now closed to foreigners because of the pandemic.

Another option for him would be to disembark in Singapore, but the country required foreign arrivals to travel directly to the airport.

“I’ve found myself in this predicament. Essentially when I finish my tour of duty I will be stateless. I’ve got nowhere to go.”

Daniels said there were many New Zealanders in similar overseas industries who returned to New Zealand between jobs, had families in the country and paid taxes here.

“It’s bigger than just myself. I see a lot of other New Zealanders in a similar predicament.

“Foreign seafarers joining ships in New Zealand don’t have to use the voucher system. But New Zealand seafarers returning to New Zealand after work need to use it.”

The voucher system has been in force since November 3.

Everyone arriving in New Zealand since that date was required to present a voucher to airlines before boarding their flight, or have a special exemption from using the system.

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