Government needs to be careful about charging New Zealanders to return

I find myself in a unique situation at the moment. I have friends from my University of Canterbury days who did their postgraduate studies here. Shortly before they left at the end of 2002, their first child was born in Christchurch. 17 1/2 years later, having finished high school and decided to take a gap year before taking up her entrance to Yale University, she is coming to New Zealand. She is a New Zealand citizen as is the rest of her family.

On one hand I can understand the Government wanting to make sure that there is no unnecessary burden caused by people who have been out of New Zealand for a long time. Going into isolation for two weeks – or longer if one has COVID19 – is going to be a taxing time, not just for the person’s sanity, but also on the rest of New Zealand, whose government monies and resources will be in use to ensure the isolation is successful. In this respect I can understand why people might be annoyed with those who want to come home just for the duration that it takes for the world to get over COVID19 and then presumably vanish again.

On the other hand, some of the sentiment and some of the politicking around this is completely misguided and that is where I think my friend from the United States comes into the picture. She left the country with her parents when their study finished – her mother graduated with a Masters in Law; her father with a PhD in seismic engineering. She has spent the last 17 years living in Los Angeles with her sister and parents. In this case she has never had an opportunity to pay New Zealand taxes because she has not lived here as a taxpaying citizen, and she would be arriving just out of high school. If she gets paid employment it would more than cover the $3,000. I would suggest that before we charge a New Zealand citizen doing a reverse Overseas Experience we look at non-New Zealanders who have no connection at all to this country. I would suggest that the America’s Cup yachties, Hollywood film crews and such be made to stump up.

And let us have a look at the reasons why some New Zealanders are coming home. Many have lost jobs and have little prospect of staying in their current locations. When COVID19 started they might have been told that their jobs were still secure, so they did not leave and simply toughed it out only to find that in the interim the employment ground they thought they stood on has shifted. Given the increasingly politically volatile nature of many places popular with New Zealanders long term, staying there might not be an option any longer for simple reasons of safety. One has to look no further than Hong Kong, where even if one has not participated in any recent protests, the imposition of the National Security Law means if the Chinese authorities suspect you, harsh times await you in the Chinese justice system. For that reason, no one can blame New Zealanders living in Hong Kong if they suddenly no longer feel safe there.

So, my suggestion to the New Zealand Government is very simple. It needs to be extremely careful about how it handles this. New Zealanders overseas are not necessarily coming home because they suddenly thought “I’ll jump on a plane and go home”. They are coming home because their employer said “sorry, the job we thought we could save for you no longer exists”, or because the fear of a knock on the door from authorities no longer constrained by democratic rule is now realistic.

It’s not simply about “having a holiday” as some misinformed individuals seem to think.

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