Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit.
I stared at the email. Your application for a 2021 Resident Visa has been approved.
ARRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH. My insides flipped. I looked again, just to be sure. Really? I’d been waiting so long for this I wasn’t quite sure it was real.
Oh but it was. I’m now a fricking New Zealand resident, I thought to myself.
I’m secure. The relief enveloped me.
I can go home. I cried.
I’m not tied to anything. I was elated.
I was surprised.
This application was a relatively new one, only put in two weeks before so I hadn’t been expecting to hear so soon. My original application had been in since last August, and really, it was that one that I wanted to be processed. But COVID lockdowns and changes in immigration processes had put those applications on hold with no idea of when they would be starting them up again, so I applied for a new category that had opened up for a couple of months.
I was disappointed though.
This wasn’t what I’d worked towards for the last 2 years, and it didn’t give me Permanent Residency straight away like the other one would have. Now, I still have to apply for that in another two years time, making sure I spend at least 6 months of each year in New Zealand. It’s not quite how I’d hoped, it’s not the visa or route I wanted. There’s still some hoops to jump through, and I’m tired of jumping. There’s that tinge of disappointment that, if I’m not careful, could permeate this good news and taint it. No, this is a time for celebration and looking forward. I’m a resident, it means pretty much the same thing, and at least I can get on with living life on my own terms.
My visa journey has been pretty stressful. I came over on a tourist visa, to see how my relationship with Mike went. I then applied for a partnership visa to be able to stay and work, having to evidence our short relationship with copies of messages, phone records, documents, cards, letters from witnesses, and photos, hoping to hell INZ accepted it as genuine and stable. We knew it was, but did the evidence show it?
When Mike ended the relationship, I had two choices: get another visa or leave the country. Luckily I was already working by then, but it was a stressful time to tell my (fairly new) employer I’d need another visa and could they provide pages of evidence that they hired me fairly, over and above a kiwi, as well as proving that I was doing a skilled job that met all the criteria of a particular job classification code. Then it was a tense wait to see if it was accepted.
That visa had no path to residency (unlike the partnership visa) so I had to accept the reality that I’d never be able to stay in New Zealand long term, which was something I’d just started to think about. I didn’t have enough points for the usual skilled migrant residency pathway, and there were no other visa categories that I could apply for. It felt like something had been offered on a plate, and then cruelly snatched away. I’d started to build a life which I knew wouldn’t last that long. Nevertheless, I decided to embrace the adventure and see what happened.
So I did.
There was a visa category that granted work to residence visas for people working in skilled jobs like mine for employers who were ‘accredited’, but my employer wasn’t on the list. I kept asking if they would consider it, but the answer was always no. After about a year our new parent company said they wanted the company to be accredited, and so it was game on. I was so excited I could’ve burst, and completed the company’s application for them to push it through as quickly as I could. Again, a nail biting wait followed to see if all the evidence was enough.
As soon as it was accepted, I changed my visa and began the two year wait, as I had to hold that visa for two years before I could apply for residency, which was then normally granted within a few months. About a year into being on that visa they changed the rules, and all of a sudden the wait times for residency being granted were getting on for two years instead of a few months. An additional two years. My heart sank. Two years of having to stay on the same visa and therefore the same conditions, the same type of job, with no ability to change or be spontaneous. It was killing me.
You see, work visas are tied to your employer and job, so you can’t just decide to work in another job (or even change role within the same company) unless you request a variation – effectively applying for a new visa each time. You can’t be unemployed, you can’t work for anyone else on the side, you can’t study and with the accredited employer visa, you can’t work for any employers who aren’t accredited. You also have to earn above a certain salary range and work full time (after working 4 days a week part time in the UK this was difficult to go back to!). You also can’t buy property, get an employer-contributed pension and a heap of other stuff. You’re just temporary.
The only way to speed up that two year backlog was to earn $ over a higher salary threshold, which at that point I wasn’t. I had 8 months to find a new job and a pay rise otherwise I was still stuck with restrictions for another two years. I also needed to change my job because it was slowly destroying my mental health. Not being able to take any extended time off or quit a toxic environment to have a break because you’d have to leave the country if you do is an incredible pressure. It was also the time when New Zealand had closed it’s borders to anyone who wasn’t a NZ citizen or resident, so I was pretty much trapped here – if I left, I couldn’t get back in.
I got the new job.
A great company, over that salary threshold and all I had to do was wait until August to apply. To get through those months while incredibly burnt out and fragile, my main thought was that when I was a resident, perhaps I could take a break and have some time off to recover, because I was hanging on by a thread at this point. Only August came and Delta shut down Auckland, and with it, the immigration team that dealt with my type of visa applications. That priority I worked so hard to get by getting the new job was pretty redundant, as they weren’t processing any applications.
I broke down at that point.
It’s OK, I thought, they’ll just start again when out of lockdown, and it’ll just be a few weeks. But lockdown kept going. Immigration NZ didn’t have any business continuity plans for these applications to continue, so the backlog kept growing and there was no end in sight. Again, something had been offered to me on a plate and then cruelly snatched away.
To add, every visa needs a medical check. Nervous waits while getting blood taken, being prodded and poked, and x-rayed. Oh god what if they find some terrible disease I don’t know I have? Police checks from all the countries you’ve lived in. Oh god, what if I have some terrible crime on my record I don’t know about?
A new resident visa category was announced. ‘Everyone should apply for this one! It will be quicker!’
But it costs more, and we don’t get Permanent Residency (a perk of the accredited employer visa), surely that’s unfair? we said.
‘You should apply for the new one! It will be quicker!’
When will the old ones be processed? So we can make an informed decision? we asked.
‘No idea! Everyone should apply for the new one! It will be quicker!’
Still to this day, no one at Immigration NZ has acknowledged the loss of the PR perk for a group of people.
It’s surreal. When you’ve been waiting for something for so long, you wonder whether it’ll ever happen because it seems so out of reach. You daren’t dream, because it might jinx it, or you get frustrated. And then – boom – it happens and it’s like ‘oh! I can do all that now.’ And then you freeze. ‘Oh, no, I’m not sure I’m quite ready yet thanks.’
I acknowledge I’m incredibly privileged to have even been able to take this path in the first place. I come from an English-speaking country, one that already has ties to New Zealand (colonisation is a different topic however), working in a professional job. I don’t come from a country where it’d be dangerous or horrific to be sent back. I’m not supporting a family who are relying on me to get a better life. I’m one of the ‘easy’ ones. Please spare a thought for the millions of people across the world in those positions and try to imagine how difficult it must be for them.
I’m so determined to make the most of this opportunity. Within hours I’d set the ball rolling for Kiwisaver (NZ employer pension scheme that I hadn’t been able to join, missing out on all those $ contributions from my employers), even though the actual visa hadn’t been issued at that point. I’ve emailed a couple of contacts about some potential freelance writing work. I’ve spoken to my boss about some potential small changes at work.
I’m not stepping onto a completely different path; last year I thought I would, but I was chronically burnt out. I’m well on the way to recovery from that, and right now I’m doing really well, so I’m staying put for a bit. I’m just enjoying having freedom and choice. I can live life how I really want to.
Holy SHIT it feels so good.
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