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Regular review of travel restrictions and assistance for overseas NZers urged

The Human Rights Commission welcomes the Government's lifting of the temporary travel restriction from India for New Zealand citizens, calls for regular review into restrictions that remain for permanent residents, and urges greater assistance for New Zealanders stuck overseas.

"The restoration of travel is consistent with citizens’ right to return home from India under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and international law," chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt says.

After lifting travel restrictions for citizens from India, the Government has introduced a new ‘very high risk’ category of countries – at this stage being India, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Pakistan. Travellers from ‘very high risk’ countries can now only enter New Zealand if they are New Zealand citizens, or partners, parents and children of New Zealand citizens. Very significantly, permanent residents are now excluded.

"The Government has an obligation to provide ongoing justification for why permanent residents are being prevented from re-entering New Zealand from these countries, and how this decision will be regularly reviewed."

Permanent residents can live in New Zealand indefinitely. They are eligible to enrol and vote in general elections, can access New Zealand benefits and pensions, free or subsidised health services, and are entitled to free primary and secondary schooling.

Until this recent change, permanent residents and most resident visa-holders have been allowed to re-enter New Zealand (aside from under the temporary travel restriction in respect of India).

The Commission is urging the Government to make known the process and regular review dates of the ‘very high risk’ category of countries, which is especially important if these designations continue for some time.

"It may be lawful that such measures can be taken to restrict permanent residents’ ability to travel home if it is proportionate to the public health risk, however, we call for ongoing transparency around the justification for this change and the numbers of people who continue to be affected.

"While acknowledging the importance of keeping New Zealand borders safe and protecting front line staff, the Government also has international law obligations to permanent residents for whom New Zealand is their home."

Permanent residents from ‘very-high risk’ countries can re-enter New Zealand through a third country (if they have been there for more than 14 days), but this appears very difficult in the current travel environment.

"I urge the Government to assist New Zealanders in ‘very high risk’ countries to get home, similar to the repatriation efforts undertaken last year, including through chartering flights and prioritising managed isolation and quarantine spots for those affected by these recent restrictions."

The Commission is awaiting to receive a response from the Minister for COVID-19 Response about the initial travel restrictions relating to India, including in relation to the capacity of New Zealand’s quarantine facilities, and support provided to those affected by the restrictions.

"My thoughts go to all those affected by the Government’s new ‘very high risk’ category, whether they are in India, Papua New Guinea, Brazil and Pakistan, or their family or friends here in New Zealand.

"We strongly encourage the Government to keep the communities in New Zealand and abroad most affected by this new category of countries well-informed of the Government’s reasoning and decisions. Government and communities must be in close communication.

"It should not be assumed that all New Zealand citizens and permanent residents, who are now urgently seeking to return home, left New Zealand after the pandemic emerged. Moreover, many of those who left New Zealand after the pandemic became widespread only did so for compelling and upsetting family reasons."

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