There’s a saying with sailors that “plans are best made in the sand at low tide” – and there is no doubt that COVID-19 has caused much disruption to the plans of cruisers in New Zealand and the Pacific (and everyone else around the world too of course!).
Regular blog readers will recall that I’ve been doing some advocacy for the international sailors who’ve inadvertently had all their sailing plans well and truely washed away. We’ve had some success of sorts – the cruisers who are stuck here weren’t thrown out of the country and in to the Pacific cyclone season, and most are now awaiting replies from Immigration NZ in regards to their visa extensions. Some cruisers in the Pacific have been allowed in to NZ as well – but mainly those who’ve committed to refitting their boats and spending at least NZD$50k on repairs while they are here.
However the third group of affected people are those cruisers who were overseas and inadvertently separated from their boats in NZ when New Zealand closed the border back in March 2020.
Since then only New Zealand citizens and a select group of other international people such as essential workers and sports people have been allowed in to the country. Those who do come in have to spend two weeks in managed isolation and quarantine at a cost of NZD$3100 for the first person and NZD$950 for the second adult. This week there has been an additional requirement for travellers coming in from the UK or USA to have a negative COVID test just before they fly as well.
While there is talk of a ‘travel bubble’ opening between NZ, Australia & certain South Pacific Islands, nothing has been confirmed as yet, and the chances of a border opening and then quickly closing again if a community outbreak occurs again is very high. The vaccination is not going to be rolled out in NZ until the second quarter of 2021.
So where does this leave the cruisers who are stuck overseas and separated from their boats? Any applications direct to Immigration New Zealand to enter the country are quickly declined. One cruiser I know of has just had his boat put on a ship and delivered back to Canada. Others have decided to sell their boats and to start again. Time is ticking away and with no real idea of what lays ahead it must be a really frustrating position to be in.
The other issue is that boats that are here have been given a Temporary Import Entry – TIE – which means they don’t have to pay duty or GST when they arrive. This is given for two years. This has been extended for those that were expiring in 2020 and I expect that they’ll do the same for the TIE’s expiring in 2021. It would be extremely unfair if they didn’t allow an extension for boats that were technically stuck here. If your TIE is due to expire then you need to apply to Customs for an extension by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org 8 weeks before your TIE expires.
There has been a suspension of overseas visitor visa applications in NZ too. It sounds like NZ Immigration has been overwhelmed with applications. You can read more about what is going on here.
Here is a list of people who are currently able to apply for an exemption to enter NZ. There is a ‘Humanitarian Reason’ category and the criteria states:
Immigration instructions H5.30.25 (a) define humanitarian reasons for travel to New Zealand as exceptional circumstances of a humanitarian nature that make it strongly desirable for the applicant to travel and enter New Zealand.
- The strong public interest in protecting the health of New Zealanders and supporting Government agencies’ response to the risks posed by the COVID-19 situation.
- Your connection to New Zealand.
- Your connection to the place you are currently located.
- Whether New Zealand is your primary place of residence, and your period of absence from New Zealand.
- Whether you have any alternative options.
- The impact of not granting a visa and entry permission to you.
There is one other avenue that cruisers can try, and that would be to write a letter to appeal to the Minister of Immigration to ask for an exemption to be allowed in to the country. These appeals are best handled via the local Member of Parliament, and for cruisers this should probably be the MP for the electorate that your boat is sitting in. It is important for the local MP to have an understanding of the issues relating to people in their electorate and for them to advocate on your behalf. The Minister of Immigration usually (in non COVID times) has some discretion over who can and can’t come in to the country, but of course this bar has been lifted even higher at the moment.
So if you are keen to make an appeal the local Members of Parliament are:
Whangarei – Emily Henderson – electorate MP for the Labour Party
Whangarei Dr Shane Reti – list MP based in Whangarei for the National Party
Bay of Islands – Northland – Willow-Jean Prime
Let me know if your boat is based somewhere else and I can tell you who the local MP is.
Here is a bit of a guide as to how you might want to word your letter and some of the information you could include:
Your name and current contact details
MP Name and contact details
Dear (Member of Parliament for the electorate your boat is located in)
I am writing to appeal for assistance in regards to an immigration issue.
I/we sailed in to New Zealand on my boat (name) in (date) and she is now located in (marina/hardstand name). (You might also want to explain where your home port is, which country you are a citizen of, how long you have been cruising for, who you are cruising with – partner/children etc).
In (date), I left New Zealand to travel home to (where you are located now), (explain why you left NZ, was it to see family? for medical reasons? work etc? – only include this if it makes your story sound better!)
Due to New Zealand closing the border to international travellers I have been unable to return to my boat – my home. (explain how this has affected you, is your boat your only home? Where are you living now? How much is it costing you to keep your boat in NZ? How much have you spent on the boat while it’s been in NZ?)
I would like to be able to come in to New Zealand so that I can (sail her to your home country? Take her to the Pacific? Where will you go)
Due to the Pacific Cyclone season which runs from October through to May, I’d need to return to the boat before (date, how long you need to spend in NZ preparing the boat) so that I can leave the country between the safe sailing season of June – September.
I would be prepared to pay for Managed Isolation and Quarantine and will be able to have the COVID vaccination before I come to New Zealand. I am fit and healthy and financially able to support my short stay in the country.
If I am not permitted to enter NZ (explain your alternative options and what impact this will have on you.)
I would really appreciate your assistance to be granted an entry in to New Zealand. Please let me know if you require any further information.
Of course this letter is just an example of what information you might like to include. Explain your personal situation, how this matter has affected your life, and remember that your letter is going to be read by someone who has New Zealand’s best interests at heart – how are you going to show that you won’t be a risk to society, to the health system and be able to support yourself financially? Why should this person/New Zealand allow you in to the country above some of the other people who are also separated from their families etc? Come up with some really compassionate reasons. You might also want to include a copy of your passport.
Now please don’t get your hopes up. I don’t want to give anyone any false sense of hope that this appeal will work. New Zealanders are currently going about their business as normal, and with no COVID in the community we are in a unique position compared to the rest of the world. The border closures have been really strict, and spaces in the Managed Isolation hotels have been difficult to obtain. I really have no idea as to how this will go or when in the future the border restrictions might be relaxed. But it is worth a try!
**Update 18 Jan 21 – one of the cruisers has already emailed Emily Henderson and has had an immediate response from her office declining any assistance. That being said, I think it is important to continue emailing through to her so she understands that there is a larger issue out there. Then also send the letter through to Dr Shane Reti – the List MP for National in the Whangarei electorate. Let’s see what he has to say too. **
However you might need to start thinking about your options long term. If this appeal is declined, what will you do? It is possible that the border will remain closed to international people for another year or maybe longer. Can you wait that long? Can you sell your boat here? Would you consider getting it shipped home?
If you want me to proof read your letter for you then please email it through, I will of course keep all your details confidential. Please also keep me informed of the response you get from the local MP. If they decline to help you then there are other Members of Parliament in the opposition party based in those electorates who may also be keen to help take up your case.
Also if you are keen to discuss these issues and hear how others are getting on, then you might like to join the Facebook Group: Sailors with COVID Immigration Issues NZ
Happy to answer any questions. Please let me know.