Families are being kept apart. Image via Adobe Stock

Border closures: A nightmare for South Africans moving to New Zealand

Migrant families have been split up on opposites sides of the world for several months, while both South Africa and New Zealand have closed their borders.


Families are being kept apart. Image via Adobe Stock

New Zealand is a preferred destination among South Africans seeking to emigrate. Most South Africans do not qualify for emigration to New Zealand without first securing a job there.

Many South Africans hoping to migrate to New Zealand must first travel there to secure an offer of employment before being able to lodge their applications to migrate to New Zealand.

In most cases, the family member who is the main applicant, will hop on a plane and fly thousands of miles to the “land of the long white cloud”, to look for employment, while leaving the rest of the family behind in South Africa.

Once in New Zealand, the job seeker will begin their search for employment. This often takes months and can be extremely stressful. Once a job offer has been secured, the applicant usually flies back to South Africa, to prepare for the move to New Zealand with their family.

Border closures cause disruption to family life

Some New Zealand employers require jobseekers to take up their duties soon after job offers are made, giving jobseekers minimal time to return to South Africa to make all final preparations. In many cases, this requires the jobseeker to head back to New Zealand without their families.  

A number of South Africans arrived in New Zealand earlier this year, to take up employment offers, ahead of their families arriving. Numerous families now find themselves divided between South Africa and New Zealand as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The only way to keep a family life going is via Zoom and Skype calls.

One South African says, “We’ve been living our life on video calls.”

Some of the South African migrants have already been apart for several months. The distance and time apart is becoming a matter for concern. Several months of purely online interaction is taking a toll on family relationships.

“In the beginning it was okay, but you can actually hear it and see it that she’s lost interest. It’s just another video on a phone,” a South African based in New Zealand mentioned, regarding the state of his relationship with his wife and two-year-old daughter, who are stuck in Port Elizabeth.

Reasons for being stuck in South Africa

There are several reasons why South African family members are stuck in South Africa. Firstly, borders are closed in both New Zealand and South Africa. There are also no scheduled flights available between both countries. Presently, it is only possible to leave South Africa on repatriation flights. These flights are expensive and entail a huge amount of administration and paperwork.

For several months, embassies and visa companies were unable to open as they were not classified as essential services. South African Home Affairs offices was not processing passports and other documentation which migrants required for their migration permits. This led to delays in submitting the required documentation.

The despair mounts as borders remain closed  

As the months pass, tensions mount and emotions run high. Family members in both New Zealand and South Africa are becoming desperate to reunite. Some families are living out of suitcases in guest houses.

Petrus Janse Van Rensburg, a 29-year-old South African mechanic who has been waiting for his family to arrive says the distance is putting a strain on his relationship with his wife and daughter.  

“I’m losing my relationship with my daughter and my wife. We didn’t ask to be apart.” 

Many migrants had given up their jobs, sold their cars and homes in anticipation of moving to New Zealand. Many families are under financial strain, watching their finances disappear as costs escalate while staying in temporary accommodation in South Africa and in New Zealand.

 “We don’t have much money left,” Janse van Rensburg said.

However, there is some hope on the horizon. A charter flight between South Africa and New Zealand is in the pipeline, but he New Zealand government has not yet granted approval for the charter flight which is being organised to reunite South African families until borders officially open.

Also read: Namibia to reopen borders to international visitors on 1 September