Sunday, November 28

The MIQ system is littered with third-party bookings as stranded expats await an overhaul


As thousands of stranded New Zealanders pin their hopes on an imminent MIQ announcement, the lobbying system for reservations is already being misled by a group of third parties.

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Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

One company is using fake passport numbers to secure vouchers for returnees who pay $ 270, much to the frustration of others who have been lost.

Marine engineer Andrew Black got stuck in Perth after a business trip to Australia in December, saying it was “unbelievable” to have to compete against fake accounts.

He was hoping for a fair chance to go home and see his wife when MIQ removed their old first-come, first-served booking system, but they haven’t managed to get fewer than 14,000 in the queue using the new random lobby system.

In messages posted online, the MIQ Booking company explains that you can add multiple passengers per booking, with fake passport numbers, to secure multiple places in the queue.

MIQ Booking, who could not be reached for comment, claimed it would give people a better chance of a venue.

“You don’t want to know what I think of the people who are doing that to New Zealanders who are so desperate to get home. Taking advantage of people’s misery is just despicable,” Black said.

Advocacy group Grounded Kiwis said it was understandable that returnees did their best.

It has obtained figures under the OIA that show low success rates among people who tried to obtain last-minute emergency MIQ rooms between July 1 and September 6.

There were 50 requests from people who said they were terminally ill with a life expectancy of less than six months and wanted to be reunited with their family; only four of them got a reservation.

Among the 533 requests from New Zealanders who said they could no longer legally stay in their current location and had to return urgently, only 29 were granted.

In that latter category is Rotorua man Peter Woods, who is trapped in China, where his work permit and visa have expired, and now has his second 30-day humanitarian visa.

He has missed all the virtual lobby room launches and an offer for an emergency assignment, but he fears there will be serious repercussions if he cannot leave in a matter of days.

“Obviously it’s a difficult process here with its rules. I don’t know how long this is going to take, but obviously you can go to detention or prison,” he said.

“My frustration is that three months have passed. I finished my work visa here, so how long do I still survive without working?”

Yesterday, a number of changes to the MIQ system were expected to be introduced at the 1:00 pm podium, which could free up more capacity for returning New Zealanders.

Ministers now hope to make that announcement today.

Grounded Kiwis wants fully vaccinated travelers who test negative to have the option of home isolation.

Spokesman Martin Newell said having all returnees stay in a hotel for 14 days no longer made sense.

“You have a better chance of catching Covid in a cafe in Auckland than in Sydney these days. The answer must take into account the risk … in deciding what kind of isolation you get,” he said.

“The whole MIQ system is not fit for purpose. We need a new process to allow people to come back and we need it now.”

Changes can’t come fast enough for Rivka Hobden, who is fully vaccinated and traveling home from Melbourne via MIQ on Sunday.

She believes that home isolation would make a lot more sense than 14 days in a hotel.

“It’s ridiculous. Absolutely totally ridiculous, especially at home, I have an empty house waiting for me,” he said.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said ministers met yesterday afternoon to work out “more details” and complexities before making a formal announcement on the MIQ changes.

Meanwhile, MIQ joint head Megan Main said officials were changing passport entry requirements for the virtual lobby to prevent people from using false details.

In a statement, it said there were a series of “checks and balances” after each lobbying event, to identify any fake passport numbers used in reservations.

“Anyone using a fake passport number to reserve a space at MIAS has violated the Terms of Use and their coupon will be canceled. We have not seen widespread use of fake details at any of the lobby events,” he said.

“The changes will be detailed on our website in due course.”


www.rnz.co.nz

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