No return:: Queenstown migrants Charlie Grant and Zara Meekins have been denied a return to NZ on humanitarian grounds


A Queenstown migrant couple holed up in Bali for almost four months are becoming increasingly desperate as they’re continually barred from re-entering New Zealand.

Brits Charlie Grant and Zara Meekins were holidaying there in March when their return flight was cancelled due to Covid-19 border restrictions.

With their funds dwindling month by month, they’ve lost unhealthy amounts of weight while rationing their food and are close to having to beg.

They also have to leave the apartment they’ve been stranded in, in two weeks’ time, and face the prospect of living on the street.

They’re worried sick about their plight — Grant’s surviving on an average two hours’ sleep and is ‘‘regularly breaking down and crying’’.

Immigration NZ’s so far refused more than 20 of their requests to return without giving them ‘‘any solid reasons’’, he says.

Grant’s Queenstown employer, CDH Painting, also reports it’s badly affected due to his critical role with the company and is having to turn down jobs and, ironically, stop taking on more Kiwi employees.

Local MP Hamish Walker, who’s taken up the visa-holding couple’s case, says he’s ‘‘incredibly concerned for Charlie and Zara’s health and wellbeing’’.

‘‘They pose no risk to public safety in NZ as they will have to be tested for Covid-19 before leaving Bali,’’ Walker says.

‘‘Our border rules are inconsistent if we can allow film crews in to NZ to benefit our economy but not allow returning taxpayers, who are struggling to survive, back into the country they call home.’’

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker

Walker’s convinced the couple meet Immigration NZ’s criteria, including humanitarian reasons, for being allowed to return.

‘‘They both have an incredibly strong connection to NZ, having permanently lived and worked here for over four years, paying tax and contributing to the development of their local and wider communities, as well as being active parts of their local communities.’’

Grant and Meekins originally travelled to Bali to celebrate his 28th birthday and get some downtime before starting some large projects for his employer.

He says they’d tried ‘‘with all of our might’’ to get a flight back.

‘‘Here we are, nearly four months later, pretty much self-isolating [all the time] — it’s definitely not a holiday.

‘‘We’ve always been the people to save for a rainy day, but I don’t think anyone can prepare for four months of rainy days — like, eventually, we do have to run out of money.’’

He’s told Immigration NZ its rejection of them, with no reasoning, has ‘‘broken us to the core’’.

‘‘Feelings of despair, heartbreak and loss of everything we know and love is giving us little to continue.’’

Grant says returning to their native England isn’t an option, ‘‘and even if we did, we’d be in an even worse situation’’.

‘‘The only reason we’ve been able to hold out so long is because Bali’s a little bit more affordable.’’

Grant says he’s used his employer’s wage subsidy to keep their Queenstown rental — ‘‘if we
were to give up our house, we’d officially be homeless’’.

They’d have no problem quarantining on their return, he says.

‘‘We’d comply with absolutely any rules put in place — we really care about the health of NZers, and it’s mandatory for us to get a test before we’re able to board a plane in Bali.’’

Bali’s also not a heavily Covid-19-infested country, he notes.

Grant says he’s already applied for NZ residency — ‘‘we’ve got a pretty strong case for it just because of my position in the company’’.

‘‘I’m pretty critical to the recruitment and training of new Kiwi staff, and there’s potential job losses to be had if I can’t get back.’’

CDH Painting co-owner Carter Hardy confirms Grant’s role — as a building site foreman who’s due to become a project manager — is critical.

‘‘I’ve already had to turn jobs down because he’s not here to run the guys,’’ he says.

‘‘At some jobs he can be running up to 20 other workers for me, and it’s hard to find people who will actually take that onboard and do it.’’

In an email plea to Immigration NZ, the company says his job’s ‘‘critical’’ for the business to sustain jobs and growth.

‘‘If we are unable to have Charlie return we will have to restructure the business and this will mean that there are no new jobs for Kiwis to fill.’’

Hardy says what the government’s doing is ‘‘atrocious’’, particularly given the couple’s
contribution to NZ.

Immigration NZ couldn’t respond to Mountain Scene by deadline.

Still awaiting visa application

Mountain Scene last week reported concerns Queenstown-based Scottish caregiver Lana
McLuskey, who provides invaluable one-on-one care to a severely-disabled four-year-old, might be booted from NZ.

Best friends: Lana McLuskey and her charge Levi Vallance, 4

Levi Vallance is due this month to start Shotover Primary, which has got funding for a 25-hours-a-week teacher aide position for McLuskey to look after him at school.

Immigration NZ, however, has advised she needs at least 30 hours a week’s full-time employment to qualify for an essential skills work visa.

McLuskey’s argument is she also helps Levi at his home for up to 14 hours a week.

Immigration NZ — whose reply arrived after deadline last week — advises McLuskey’s current work visa runs till January 3.

‘‘She has not yet submitted an application for another work visa,’’ border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg says.

‘‘As such, Immigration NZ has not had the opportunity to undertake a full assessment of her new employment and assess her eligibility against the relevant visa requirements.’’

Hogg says it’s understood McLuskey’s also asked for ministerial intervention