Thursday 18 February 2021

MIQ and the America's Cup

I was curious how many spaces in New Zealand's Managed Isolation and Quarantine system were taken up by folks coming in for the America's Cup.

It looks to be unknowable, at least for now.

Immigration NZ has a list of people who were invited to apply for entry visas for the Cup, and another list of people who subsequently applied, and another list of those who were approved. There were 753 people whose entry visas were approved as of late January, with another 16 applications then under consideration. 

But we don't know how many rooms that takes up. A lot of those 753 will have been dependents of arriving America's Cup workers. Sometimes dependents travel with the worker. Sometimes they arrive at a different time. If they come in together, that would be one room. If they come in separately, it would be more than one. 

And some of those 753 might have decided not to bother coming through after having gotten their visas.

And some will have self-isolated on boats.

On the other side of MBIE, the MIQ people have lists showing which people were in which rooms and when.

But they've never looked to compare names across the two lists. It would seem likely to be pretty easy; you could even brute force the thing by just sorting the two different lists alphabetically and then eyeballing it. 

Anyway, Immigration told me their numbers, and I wrote on them in last week's Insights newsletter in our 3 slot - the one we reserve for satire or dark humor

The Aristocracy of Pull

If you want to get into New Zealand during the pandemic, it’s not that hard.

The government just needs to consider you to be a priority for a scarce managed isolation space.

Simplest is to be attached to a subsidised government programme. If a government programme falls over, there are real consequences. Political consequences. If private projects fail for want of critical staff, that is obviously less important.

Back in August, being a racetrack specialist mattered. The Provincial Growth Fund considered horse tracks critically important, so those workers got in.

But government racing priorities change with new coalitions, and the America’s Cup is on in Auckland. Its importance is as obvious as the dollars government and Council have thrown at it – about a quarter of a billion of them, regardless of business cases that struggled to show benefits in excess of cost even before Covid.

The argument for subsidising and prioritising the Cup is so powerful, they don’t need to explain it in a business case that stacks up, and they don’t need to revisit it when circumstances change.

Immigration New Zealand tells me that, as of the 21st of January, 753 people had been granted visas for travel into New Zealand for the Cup and a further 16 applicants were waiting on decisions. That is roughly equivalent to one in seven arrivals over one MIQ cycle – though MBIE has not yet told me how many MIQ spaces have been needed.

Being vital for projects involving racing or films could help your prospects for getting a space. A film about a horse race on a boat could tick all the right boxes.

Alternatively, if you worry that urgent need to enter the country might arise, cultivating a sympathetic media profile could be helpful. When 1.2 million Kiwis were born abroad and another million Kiwis live abroad, the number of legitimate urgent travel cases will always exceed capacity. Selection will be impossibly hard. Being featured on the news could help you while making the government’s selection job a bit easier.

Finally, if all else fails, being elected as a list MP might help, but it’s hard to tell. One MP took a spin on that roulette wheel in desperate circumstances and won, despite long odds. Lucky spins do happen.

Fortunately, scarce spaces in MIQ are allocated according to democratically chosen priorities. A bit of political pull is all you need to ease things along.

The Herald's Tom Dillane asked about the numbers; here's what I told him. 

Priority at the border has been and should be returning Kiwis. The government consequently reserves only a small number of spaces for workers essential to a wide variety of industry and business needs. Taking up hundreds of MIQ spaces for what is fundamentally a large government project – a boat race that would not be occurring in the absence of some quarter of a billion dollars in public funding – means fewer spaces are available for workers critically important for other projects. That is the real cost of these spaces: the opportunity lost when the government prioritises workers and dependents for its own projects over anyone else’s. We regularly hear not only of essential skilled workers unable to get a spot in MIQ, but also about critical skilled migrants in New Zealand deciding to leave because they have not seen their families for a year and have no hope of bringing them in. Prioritising the entry of hundreds of dependents of boat race workers, over workers already here who have not seen their families for ages, suggests the government’s priorities are out of whack.

Dillane's story is here. The headline isn't right - it's over 700 entries, with at least a couple of hundred of those being dependents. But Dillane wouldn't have written the headline. He goes through the numbers; I sent him through the OIA material. 

I still have a request in with MBIE asking whether they can compare across those lists. 

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