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Supporting stranded Brazilians: Esther Gantus, left, and Luana Karina de Aguiar Goncalves

By PHILIP CHANDLER

Concern’s growing for dozens of Queenstown-based Brazilians who can’t get back to their adopted hometown.

A local Brazilian knows of 113 of her countryfolk on New Zealand work visas who were visiting Brazil when borders shut because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and have been stranded since.

Most of those people work in Queenstown’s tourism industry.

Luana Karina de Aguiar Goncalves, now an NZ citizen, says 68 of these Brazilians can’t get Immigration NZ approval to return.

Another 45 have approval but can’t yet get a plane back because airline connections have been severed.

Goncalves is concerned those approvals generally last only three months, which mightn’t be long enough for those people to secure flights home.

She knows of some stranded Brazilians who still have to pay rent and other bills back in Queenstown, and have cars and other belongings here, too.

And, she adds, they’re not able to work while over there – in fact, they’re self-isolating so they’re ready at any stage to catch a flight back.

Queenstown charity queen Kaye Parker, who’s been helping Goncalves, says the situation’s “a real tragedy for both the companies who want them back, and the people themselves”.

‘‘I know of two of those stranded there.

‘‘They’re fabulous workers at a high level, in management, and they can’t come back.’’

Parker says she understands NZ’s need to control its borders, but queries why at least those with supporting letters from their employers, and on work-to-residence visas, can’t be given approval to return.

‘‘It would be great if the government could look at those cases.’’

One local example is Erika Marques, a supervisor with cleaning company, A Woman’s
Touch, who was visiting her sick dad back in Brazil when the borders closed.

She was booked to fly back on April 28, but her flight was cancelled three weeks earlier.

Marques has been with A Woman’s Touch for four-and-a-half years, and is on a work-to-
residence visa.

Despite a letter from her employer stating these facts, and despite the company’s role cleaning for ‘essential services’ during the lockdown, she’s still not been allowed to return.

Her company’s quotes manager, Esther Gantus, says if Marques ‘‘was not valuable, we
wouldn’t be helping her go through her residency process’’.

Goncalves believes Immigration NZ (INZ) has been inconsistent in how it’s treated stranded
migrants.

Some with partners or kids back in NZ have been allowed back, others in the same circumstance haven’t been, she claims.

Gantus says she’s aware of the government’s need to look after the growing number of jobless Kiwis, but says traditionally NZers haven’t been attracted to Queenstown cleaning jobs.

‘‘Ninety-nine per cent of our applications are not from Kiwis.’’

INZ’s border & visa operations boss Nicola Hogg says NZ’s border is currently closed to all
but NZ citizens and residents.

Those who believe they can meet exceptions criteria — for example, essential health workers and others deemed essential by the NZ government, and those with critical humanitarian reasons — can apply, she says.

But first they must consider the availability of flights to get back home.

‘‘The bar for being granted an exception to the border restrictions is set high to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of people already in NZ.’’

However, Radio NZ this week said Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway is considering how to let about 10,000 migrants back into NZ, but they might need to reconsider their jobs.

scoop@scene.co.nz