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It appears this government only responds to relentless pressure.

Finally, after more than four years of dithering and false starts, the Labour-led Government has announced that it is setting up a one-off resident visa. It will come as welcome news to thousands of onshore migrants who have been in limbo, some for more than a couple of years.

There have been mounting media reports of qualified professionals who were rendering valuable services leaving New Zealand for countries where there was greater certainty of a clear path to residency.

All this while the New Zealand government’s immigration apparatus seemed to have been in a state of paralysis only responding with communiques to expect announcements “shortly”, that never eventuated. This development has been long in coming but it shows that this government needs great pressure to be exerted on it before it will take any action on matters crucial to New Zealanders and the economy.

It was only the relentless pressure put on the government by a range of organisations from political parties like the National and ACT parties, dozens of business apex bodies and, last but not the least, informal groups like United Voice comprising leaders of more than 160 ethnic organisations (see separate story in this edition) is what was required for the government to act on the hundreds of thousands of migrants who were in limbo for unconscionably long lengths of time.

For months, The Indian Weekender has been covering the plight of the Kiwi Indian migrant community stranded here (and in India) with no recourse to any information about their immigration pathway in New Zealand, their situation exacerbated by the closure of borders and the diversion of the government’s attention and resources to deal with the demands of the pandemic.

As well as families torn asunder by the border closures, we have catalogued stories of Kiwi Indian families and individuals plunged into financial crises and rising numbers of cases of mental health illness – all with not so much as even a semblance of hope in sight until this announcement from the Immigration Minister.

Given the government’s track record in delaying and dithering on decision making and implementation – be it in matters of vaccine purchasing and roll out, the MIQ mess and lockdowns, besides others – it will be important for New Zealanders to keep up the pressure on the government to spur it into taking further and sustained action on yesterday’s announcement as well as a number of other matters relating to restarting New Zealand’s engagement with the world post the dark and depressing regime of lockdowns.

The government needs to act fast in implementing its decision to grant residency. It has said it will take a year to process the considerable backlog. But is it possible? What is the government plan to achieve this? We don’t want this to be just another place-holder announcement. New Zealanders must know.

The system must also prioritise the trades and professions that the country sorely needs in this pandemic situation and should look at the Expression of Interest pool, which is not in the reckoning in the current plan. We need the 3000 doctors and nurses out of that expression of interest pool and we need them processed them urgently just as we do critical healthcare workers.

At the same time, New Zealanders need to keep up the pressure on the government to take crucial decisions on looking at the Delta variant as an endemic. Nearly all countries have now come round to the practical view that eliminating Delta is well-nigh impossible and all strategies are concentrating on living with it. Even Singapore has decided on this pathway.

The government has to find a clear and unambiguous pathway out of lockdowns as the only way to deal with Delta. It must tone up contact tracing capabilities, build dedicated MIQ facilities away from dense urban centres, bring in saliva and self-testing kits and look at other medical remedies through Pharmac.

As yesterday’s immigration announcement has shown, only relentless pressure will help.

First appeared in The Indian Weekender dated 1 October 2021