Ukrainians in NZ concerned special visas rules will leave too many behind

Kate Turska, moved to New Zealand 16 years ago from Ukraine.
Kate Turska, moved to New Zealand 16 years ago from Ukraine.

Ukrainians in New Zealand fear visa rules will see hundreds of family and friends left behind in the war-torn country.

A month on from the government’s announcement of the 2022 Special Ukrainian Visa, members of the Ukrainian community are still calling for an expansion of the eligibility criteria to ensure loved ones do not miss out.

Under current visa requirements, Ukrainian-born citizens and residents in New Zealand can apply to sponsor immediate family members.

However, despite government claims that around 4000 people could be supported, in reality this could be as few as 500, according to calculations by Ukrainians in New Zealand.

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Ukrainian-born Lidia now lives in Wellington, having moved to New Zealand five and a half years ago to be with her Kiwi partner.

She has chosen to only give her first name because she does not want to be seen as unduly critical of the government.

“It’s hard because I want to be grateful for what we’ve got, but I know there are still a lot of people left behind,” she says.

She wondered what the New Zealand Government suggested happen to non-immediate family members, such as nieces and nephews, whose parents are unable to travel because of restrictions on those allowed to leave Ukraine.

And what too of close friends stuck in Ukraine, desperate to find a way to escape the war but with nowhere to go?

“Sometimes friends can be closer than family,” Lidia says.

Within the Ukrainian community in New Zealand, she was nominated to collect details of Ukrainians in the region who are in a similar position as her.

She estimates that if the visa stays as it is, only 40 people in the Wellington region will be eligible to bring anyone here.

If the visa criteria is expanded to include non-immediate family members and close friends, she predicts the total would rise to 150 – 110 more people would be offered a place.

She believed that would not place a huge burden on the Wellington community, but would make a big difference to the lives of those at risk.

The exclusion of non-adult children in the special visa is also a huge area of concern for Ukrainians in New Zealand.

Olga Vyazenko, who moved to New Zealand three years ago with her husband, is in the process of trying to get her husband’s two children, aged 12 and 14, safely into New Zealand.

The children and their mother escaped first to Poland and are now waiting in Georgia for news of whether they will be allowed to travel on to New Zealand to join their father.

Protesters gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Wellington in February to protest the invasion of Ukraine.
Protesters gathered outside the Russian Embassy in Wellington in February to protest the invasion of Ukraine.

Under the visa’s current restrictions, children are required to have written legal documentation from both parents permitting the child to travel to New Zealand.

“We have a letter from their mother, agreeing we can have custody of them and bring them here, but unfortunately they’re in shelters and are not able to get the letter signed by a notary or anyone,” Vyazenko said.

“It’s really hard… It’s a big worry.”

Accordingly, Ukrainian-New Zealanders are asking that the government have a process to provide approval for children to travel without their parents where their parents are unable to travel, and without approval of both parents where one parent may be unreachable for any number of reasons.

The government have not, as yet, publicly responded to this request.

Kate Turska, who moved to New Zealand 16 years ago but was born and raised in Sloviansk, Ukraine, is also experiencing frustrations.

“With this particular visa, and the financial burden it imposes on family members in New Zealand, a lot of our community members just can’t afford to use it,” Turska says.

Within a week of the visa being announced, her parents travelled to Budapest, where they spent two weeks waiting for their visas to be approved so they could travel on to New Zealand.

Despite being hugely grateful that she even has any opportunity to bring her parents here, Turska is feeling the financial burden of getting her parents out of Ukraine, into safe accommodation in Budapest, Hungary, and across to New Zealand.

“This has already had a huge impact on my life savings,” she says.

And this is just the beginning of the costs surrounding the special visa.

According to Immigration New Zealand, the family member in New Zealand will be expected to be solely financially responsible for anyone they bring here, including maintenance costs like food, clothing and healthcare.

The government have not, as yet, pledged any money to help with this process.

Although the visa does technically allow Ukrainians coming here to work, because of the limits placed on those actually able to come, many of them are not of working age – like Turska’s parents.

“This means the financial burden falls completely on Ukrainian citizens living in New Zealand and with the cost of living already rising here, most people just aren’t able to add a few additional mouths to their budget,” Turska says.

This is a humanitarian visa for those in crisis, not an economic one, so why are people being excluded on a financial basis?

“We’re grateful for all of the help we’ve been given so far, but we are also hopeful it will bring to fruition other things that will help Ukrainians here, the ones coming. and the ones left behind.”

Viktoriya Pashorina-Nichols, who moved to New Zealand from Ukraine when she was 10, estimates that it will cost more than $7500 to fly both of her grandparents to New Zealand.

“We are doing everything we can for our Ukrainian family members to get here, but we are also asking the New Zealand Government to consider establishing a humanitarian relocation support fund... to provide some meaningful financial assistance to those who can evidence an urgent and genuine need,” she says.

They continue to raise money as a community to help with any and all relocation costs.

Pashorina-Nichols acts as an immigration spokesperson for ‘Mahi for Ukraine’ and has met with the ministers of immigration and foreign affairs.

When asked whether any consideration was being given to the expansion of the special visa policy, a spokesperson for the Minister of Immigration said that the Government’s Special Ukraine Policy could help about 4000 people who have Ukrainian-born family here.

This is one of the largest special visa categories established by New Zealand in decades and sits alongside New Zealand’s other humanitarian assistance being provided for Ukraine and its people who are being subjected to Russia’s unprovoked aggression, the spokesperson said.

“The government continues to monitor the situation in Ukraine and assess its humanitarian response.”