It’s never been harder to be a migrant in Queenstown, with their numbers disproportionately represented in the ranks of those currently losing their jobs. PHILIP CHANDLER talks to two members from the largest migrant group, Brazilians, who’ve been working hard to support their compatriots
Watching her Brazilian community being torn apart is heartbreaking for Queenstowner Luana Karina de Aguiar Goncalves.
Now a New Zealand citizen with her own company, she says “I was a migrant worker before, I know everything they are living through right now”.
“I know how difficult it is for us Brazilians to come to NZ, it costs a lot of money and some of us sell houses and cars to come here.”
They left a Brazil riven by violence, steep taxes and social inequality to start a new life in NZ, Goncalves says.
“And the pandemic is taking all of these dreams away.”
Goncalves has been helping local Brazilians repatriate.
When the first group left, initially by bus to Christchurch, “it was really, really sad” – some of those leaving had been here six years.
“I just drove home crying because it’s really sad to see my people going away.
“I know they are good people, they are hard workers.”
Often their employers wanted to keep them, “but Immigration NZ is not approving any visas at the moment, and I don’t know if they’ll renew them”.
Many wanted to stay, but because of their uncertain future here, were resigned to returning to Brazil, despite the “really bad” problems back home.
“In Brazil they have their families and some don’t need to pay rent.
“If they stay in Queenstown, it’s very expensive.”
Local Brazilian Presbyterian minister Clay Peterson de Oliveira accepts that for Brazilians who’ve only been here a short while, returning home is probably the best solution.
However, despite job layoffs crippling his community, and even more in the offing, he’s hoping most of the resort’s 2000-plus Brazilians can stay, especially those with children.
“To move a kid, 12 years old, to a school in Brazil, for example, is going to be a huge difference for them.”
Brazil, he says, is a very uncertain place at the moment due to its economy and rising number of Covid-19 cases.
“If we just ask Brazilians to move back, especially those here for a long time, they will not find a better place or even strong connections to be safe there.”
Along with other ministers and various agencies, Oliveira’s been stepping up to help struggling migrants, and is specially focusing on the mental health of those laid off.
“It is good to know that many landlords are very kind.
“In a few cases, the negotiations are not as good, and some people will probably have to move [flats].
“I think the majority will get through, but every help possible is welcomed.”
Migrants are used to facing challenges, Oliveira says – “when they moved to NZ, it was not easy for them”.
He’s pinning hopes on NZ’s economy picking up and jobs becoming available again.
“We are open to whatever jobs are available.”
He hopes there’ll be flexibility for Brazilians to work in different industries, or even move within the country – former Queenstown chef Ryann Lourenco de Lima Ribeiro recently started a petition asking the government to relax visa restrictions tying migrants to a particular employer.
Oliveira says he totally understands why unemployed Kiwis should get preference for jobs.
“But I just wonder if we could think of [Queenstown] as one united community.
“For more than 10 years, maybe 20 years, Queenstown, and many other places in NZ, have been reliant on migrants to build tourism.
“We really hope that, in the future, the tourist industry will need the workforce of migrants to be able to keep growing.
“We really have this expectation that we will be considered as one big community.”
Meanwhile, on behalf of Queenstown’s local Brazilian community, long-time local Dilton dos Santos Dultra recently thanked those who’d helped keep the resort safe during the Covid-19 lockdown.
He distributed 800 “traditional Brazilian delights” to medical centres, firefighters, St John, police and the Covid-19 testing site.