Ukrainians escape to New Zealand, but are barred from jobs and housing, and are turning away from MSD offices.
The arrivals say they are facing a harsh new reality on the special visa for Ukraine of 2022, as they believed it would give them a chance to “exhale” and feel safe.
Last week, a Ukrainian support group asked Immigration Minister Michael Wood to expand financial, language and health support for Ukrainians, claiming the lack of support had driven some of them back to their war-torn homelands.
Iryna Barbasheva is one of 1026 people who have been granted one of the special visas since the stretch opened in March.
She fled from Kiev to Tauranga in April with her husband and 11-year-old daughter, carrying only one 20kg suitcase each and almost no money, she said.
The family had access to the visa because they were sponsored by her stepdaughter who lives and studies at university in New Zealand, she said.
It was a place to start, Barbasheva said, although her stepdaughter’s family couldn’t provide much financial support and things quickly became “very tight.”
It took months longer than Barbasheva expected to secure her own income.
She said she struggled to get an IRD number without a permanent address, then was turned down for several jobs and told the ideal candidate would have a work history in New Zealand.
“I hear everywhere that New Zealand is understaffed in different areas. But then I go to interviews and they don’t hire me. I think, you know, that’s how it works here,” she said.
“Ukrainians are hard workers. I don’t know if New Zealand knew that or not, but they are a nation of hard workers.”
Barbasheva considers herself lucky because she speaks English, while her husband cannot.
She eventually got a job as a store manager.
“I’m glad I have a job. But think about it – I went to all those interviews and I didn’t get a job and… we have to stay somewhere, and we have to eat, we have to feed our daughter,” he said. they.
Housing was another hurdle – renting a two-bedroom apartment in Tauranga costs about four times as much as in Kiev.
Barbasheva and her family are shuffling about with temporary housing offered by church friends and relatives.
At one point, when they thought they were going to be homeless, she said she turned to MSD.
Barbasheva said she was told she was not eligible for aid.
“When we were told we needed to find a new place to live, and I didn’t have a job at the time and I didn’t know what to do — that was very dark.”
In a statement, MSD-confirmed people must be a New Zealand citizen or permanent resident to be eligible for social assistance.
It said job brokers were available to help people on temporary visas find work, but “temporary visa holders are not entitled to income or emergency housing.”
Some Ukrainian arrivals queue for visas for months
Entering the New Zealand workforce was an even greater challenge for Anna Drobot, who fled from Dnipro to Auckland with her Ukrainian-Kiwi partner.
She said she had applied for the special visa to Ukraine for 2022 and waited “three or four months without any response from the government”.
Drobot said she eventually found out she was ineligible, even though her partner was a New Zealand citizen.
She said Immigration New Zealand suggested the option of a working holiday visa or partner visa, so she traveled to Aotearoa and tried those avenues.
That resulted in a long wait.
Drobot, a former procurement specialist, submitted an application three months ago and fears it could be months before she can work.
“That’s long,” she said.
“I come from a country where it’s war now, and I can’t work and not be able to support myself… it’s a bit stressful. I’m completely dependent on my partner and his family, which of course isn’t very good is for my mental state.”
Immigration NZ response
In a response, Immigration New Zealand said it aims to process the special Ukraine visas for 2022 “as soon as possible” and expresses of interest are usually processed within five weeks.
“However, some visa applications can take longer and most of these applications are processed within 15 weeks. There are several reasons why a visa application can take some time.”
Where a person cannot get a 2022 Special Ukraine visa, it said it worked to explore other avenues before making a decision on their visa application
“This process can take time and can contribute to longer wait times for a decision for these applicants.”
It said it could not issue an invitation to apply on the basis of sponsorship if the sponsor did not meet the eligibility requirements.
“Individuals from Ukraine cannot apply for a Working Holiday Scheme visa as no scheme is available for Ukraine, but partners of New Zealand citizens or residents can apply for a partnership visa.
“We will contact the individual to better understand her circumstances and the relevant visa options.”
Drobot said the lack of support for Ukrainians in New Zealand is in stark contrast to what she has experienced abroad.
“I don’t think there was any help from the government. Whenever I came to Europe from Ukraine, there were volunteers at the border who helped translate if needed, and they handed out SIM cards for you to keep in touch and let a lot of information behind… where to find your embassy, who to call.”
“Here, on the other hand, is the only kind of help I’ve had from our Ukrainian community.”
No long-term certainty for arrivals
Iryna Barbasheva has come to love parts of New Zealand, including nature, the active lifestyle and the school where her daughter has settled.
But there is a looming sense of uncertainty that her life here cannot be permanent.
“I can see us staying here for at least another 10 years, so for now it’s okay. But we don’t know what to expect,” she said.
“There’s no renewal program, I mean, we don’t know anything about what’s going to happen to us after these two years. There’s no option for us to apply for, like a residence permit.”
Her mother and younger sister remain in Kiev, where rocket attacks and power cuts have taken place.
She said Ukrainians fleeing to Aotearoa wanted to “relax and exhale a little and say ‘okay, we’re safe now’.”
Instead, she said, they face “so many new challenges.”
Mahi for Ukraine co-founder Kate Turska believed the 2022 special visa for Ukraine had “failed in its implementation”.
Since March, 404 people have used it to get to New Zealand, of the estimated 4,000 people said it could help.
Turska said people were put off by high costs and a lack of support.
She has wondered why Ukrainians are essentially only offered a work visa, rather than full support.
“We just really want to see what more can be done to support these Ukrainians who have been given shelter in New Zealand,” she said.
“The prime minister has spoken the big word at the UN. We would very much like to see the cabinet continue a number of actions.”
Visa a ‘Failed Policy’ – Ukraine Support Group
Mahi for Ukraine met with immigration minister Michael Wood last week to share his concerns.
At the time, the minister said he was aware that some Ukrainians were struggling to settle and return, and that he had “regular meetings and communication” with Ukrainian support teams here.
“Ultimately, though, people have to make decisions based on what’s best for them and their families.”
Wood’s said it is “currently considering whether an extension is warranted” for the visa policy, which expires next March.
Immigration New Zealand said it is eligible for the Ukrainian special visa, the sponsor must have been born in Ukraine or have or have had Ukrainian citizenship or permanent residence, and the applicant must normally be in Ukraine (including Crimea) from January 2022 have lived.
Eligible Sponsors based in New Zealand can apply to bring their immediate family, including parents, grandparents, siblings and adult children, to New Zealand. Each of those people can also include their partners and dependent children in their visa application.
Immigration New Zealand said it continued to prioritize urgent visa applications from Ukrainian nationals.