Back to the news list Backpackers beg for visa extension, fearing Covid-
3 August 2020 - Media Release - Stuff NZ
Backpackers are begging the Government to extend their visas, saying being forced to return to coronavirus hotspots will put their health in danger.

More than 13,000 people signed a petition, delivered to Parliament on Friday, asking for a six-month extension to working holiday visas (WHV).

Keeping backpackers in the country would help plug labour gaps in industries such as horticulture, said Marie Bock, who started the petition.

Working holiday visa holders don’t want to take jobs from New Zealanders, the 23-year-old said, but backpackers were able to easily relocate to fill jobs Kiwis didn’t want to do.

With skilled temporary workers unable to enter the country, the horticulture industry has warned it’s facing a critical labour shortage, come spring.

For a lot of backpackers, though, the main motivation for wanting to stay in New Zealand is the fear of what awaits in the rest of the world.

Bridget Bower, 30, is bartending in Christchurch on a working holiday visa that’s due to expire at the end of August.

With $30,000 in student debt, she said she needs to keep working – staying in New Zealand on a tourist visa isn’t an option.

She’s originally from Seattle in the US, but with Covid cases skyrocketing in the States she said she was “really apprehensive” about having to go back.

The US has now recorded more than 4.7 million cases of coronavirus. Deaths are rising at their fastest rate in two months, according to the World Health Organisation, peaking this week at around one per minute.

Bower said that if she has to go home, getting sick feels “inevitable”.

She said she’s concerned about the long-term health implications.

“Healthcare is a wreck back home, I don’t think I’ve ever had health insurance and am terrified of that being a huge burden in my future if I were to get [coronavirus].”

Bridget Bower says she doesn’t want to swap the safety of New Zealand for living in a Covid hotspot.
Bridget Bower says she doesn’t want to swap the safety of New Zealand for living in a Covid hotspot.
On top of that, she doesn’t know how she’d make money at home. She has been a bartender since college, but with bars in the States largely closed, her line of work has suddenly become “non-existent”.

She also wouldn’t be eligible for any unemployment benefits as she has not held a job there in the last year.

Immigration NZ’s Jeannie Melville said working holiday visas were not included in the six-month extension to work visas. Unlike employer-assisted work visas, WHV are not labour market tested to ensure there is no New Zealander able to do the role.

Migrants on temporary visas that expired between April 2 and July 9 had them automatically extended until September 25 under the Epidemic Management Notice.

That might be the only grace backpackers will be granted.

“Working Holiday Visa holders need to leave the country before their visa expires or submit an application for a new visa,” Melville said.
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