Friday 29 May 2020

A principled border re-opening

As much as I don't look forward to Avatar sequels, I can't argue against the government's letting the film crews back in. They underwent quarantine, so the entry was safe.

What I do worry about is the process. It seems to get things backwards.

Currently, entry is barred to foreign nationals unless there is a strong economic reason for their coming in. If they meet that threshold, they're quarantined and then allowed to operate. 

But that requires the government to pick and choose among potential visitors and that path is fraught. It also causes a lot of damage: lots of folks on work visas desperate to come home, but unable to.
Lawyer Alastair McClymont has been inundated with hundreds of pleas from migrants desperate to get back into the country along with calls from employers in industries like agriculture who want their managers and workers back. 

"There is a complete vagueness around the rules and an inconsistency in how the rules are being applied. It is just creating mayhem." McClymont said.

"Within the migrant community they're worried about what's going to happen."

"They need to really make a decision and they need to make it very quickly and they need to be very clear about who's going to qualify and who's not going to qualify."
The principle should be reversed. If you're able to enter the country safely, you should be allowed in (subject to the normal visa stuff that's always applied). Basically it would require showing proof of having a spot at a quarantine facility when you rock up to the ticket counter to board a flight to New Zealand. The government wouldn't have to provide the facilities but would probably want to have an oversight role in certifying them and ensuring compliance. 

What happens under that model? If there are more people wanting to come here than spaces available, prices bid up. If prices bid up, more hotels and other facilities get converted into quarantine facilities. Eventually you hit a point where the cost of bringing the next quarantine room on-stream just outweighs the value of getting here to the next person who wants to come here. Government doesn't have to decide which uses are most economically important; people demonstrate it instead in the usual way - just as we don't have government deciding who should get the next car or computer or anything else.

I've been pleading that the border be reopened to safe entry (testing, quarantine, more testing) in time for students to come here for the July semester. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff also is very keen for international students to be allowed back in

Here's me on the AM Show talking about it. If nothing else, my having missed last week's appointment at the barber's because I was home sick may have provided amusing results. 

Otago University epidemiologist Dr Michael Baker said in principle there was no reason why foreigners should not be treated in the same way as returning New Zealanders, who have been allowed into the country on condition that they stay in quarantine for two weeks.

"The current extreme form of management is 14-day quarantine, but there is a reasonable chance that a mix of other measures could shorten that," he said.
It's just so frustrating. In every other area, we desperately hope that sectors can get up to a fraction of what they were at pre-COVID. With international education, there's a strong growth potential - getting students who'd otherwise have gone to the US to come here instead for a normal university experience. 

It's also very frustrating and disappointing on a more personal front.

Since moving to Wellington, we've helped host students attending the Campbell Institute. It's an English language school. Students from overseas can billet with families. In some cases, they pay room and board. In others, like ours, they provide some assistance with childcare before and after school. It's a wonderful programme. 

Campbell had the international connections into schools around Europe and beyond, vetting the students coming here for those who'd be suitable for the demi-pair programme while vetting local families. Our kids get to learn a lot more about the world beyond New Zealand; the students get an immersive English-language experience. We've hosted students from Germany, France and Argentina. 

Last week, the school told host families and students that it will be closing. With no prospect of the border reopening, there's nothing else for it. There's an obvious market niche for this kind of thing, but economies aren't machines - they're organic. This isn't something like replacing a broken cog when it's time for the machine to run again. It's more like cutting down a tree and never quite knowing whether another like it will take its place. Developing the connections and nous to make this kind of business run is hard work. The school only needed to know when it might be able to bring students in again under quarantine. The government's continued dithering killed it. Meanwhile, the government spends billions on make-work schemes.

Some job losses and business failures with COVID are inevitable. International export education could instead be a growth sector. 

Oh the Vogonity. 

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