New Zealand’s work-excluded holiday visa holders want second chances
Adam McDonald gave up on the New Zealand dream.
He had planned to travel here in July 2020, having obtained a working holiday visa in August 2019, which gave him a year to enter the country.
As Covid-19 began to spread around the world in early 2020, it considered fast tracking its plans to try to do so before New Zealand closed its borders. But he thought it would be safer to stay put in London, hoping it would all calm down in a few months.
Of course, that was not to be the case. Almost two years later, the McDonald’s visa has long expired. He is now 33, after the maximum age of 30 for those applying for a working holiday visa from the UK.
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In April 2020 he created a Facebook group for others in his situation, calling the New Zealand government to extend the date of entry for those with working holiday visas expire while borders remain closed.
The group has 3500 members. And with the government finally announcing a plan to reopen borders – including that the working holiday visa scheme will restart from March 13 – many of those with expired visas want a second chance.
“There is not even the slightest hint of what will happen to people who find themselves in this situation,” said Zsuzsanna Belezna, a Hungarian member of the group whose visa expired in October 2020.
“It kind of feels like we’ve been completely forgotten. »
Members of the group want the government to either reinstate their expired visas, or at least give them the chance to apply for a new one. Under current rules, you can only get one working holiday visa in your lifetime, whether you use it or not.
In some countries, the number of people who can obtain a working holiday visa is capped, such as Hungary, which only has 100 places per year. Existing visa holders from these countries say they should be given priority over new applicants.
Then there is the age limit – for most countries, you must be between 18 and 30 years old to apply for a working holiday visa, although for some countries, be extended to 35 years. Many people who were eligible for a visa two years ago are now too old.
McDonald said that over the past two years, members of the group have regularly emailed Immigration New Zealand (INZ) for updates. The answer has always been the same: under the current criteria, you can only get a working holiday visa once, and no decision has been made about those who were unable to enter New Zealand in due to border closure.
“It’s a little soured the idea of New Zealand for me – Immigration does not give us the time of day or answers for two years,” he said.
McDonald now lives in France, having decided in September 2020 to “take my mind off the New Zealand dream and try something else”.
But others in the group remain hopeful, like Anabel Azcurra, 30, from Argentina.
She was granted her working holiday visa in October 2019, and she was thrilled to come to a country that “considers work-life balance essential to having a good life, is safe and secure, and is full of beautiful natural places properly protected by the institutions responsible for doing so.
She had planned to travel in August 2020, but never arrived in the country before her visa expired in October of the same year.
After a long period without news, she was heartened to hear about New Zealand’s border reopening plan.
“The fact that there is a plan to open borders and that working holiday visas are finally mentioned in official news for the first time in two years makes us feel that these years when our lives have been suspended are not weren’t a waste of time,” she said.
Many hope New Zealand will follow the lead of the Australian government, which has given working holiday visa holders who were unable to enter or had to leave the country early due to Covid-19 the opportunity to apply for a replacement visa.
Charlotte Dore, from Cambridgeshire, England, was on her second year of working holiday in Australia when she applied to come to New Zealand and had her visa approved in February 2020.
But she decided to return home to the UK as Covid-19 brought the world to a standstill.
She still wants to come to New Zealand, but with no word on her visa, she has decided to apply to return to Australia, on the grounds that her working holiday has been cut short by Covid-19.
“I thought, I’ll apply for this in the meantime and wait to see what happens with New Zealand,” she said.
“I’ll be 31 in July…I hope they decide before.”
In a statement, INZ said those who obtained Working Holiday visas before the borders closed in March 2020 and were unable to travel had their applications canceled and would need to reapply for visas.
“INZ is in the process of refunding application fees and levies for these applications,” said Ruth Isaac, executive director of employment, skills and immigration policy.
“We are working on program details (including information for those who applied for or received but did not use a working holiday visa prior to border restrictions) and expect to provide more information in future weeks.”
Isaac said the reopening of working holiday programs would be staggered over time and applications would only open in a rolling program from March 13. People could not submit applications in advance.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi reiterated that more details would be provided in the coming weeks.
While McDonald was hoping for a good result for the other members of his Facebook group, for him the wait was too long.
“I’m sure New Zealand will uphold the appeal. [as a working holiday destination] — it’s a beautiful country full of happy, friendly people,” he said.
“But I think now after Covid and everything that’s happened, a lot of people like me will have moved on.”