Covid 19 coronavirus: America’s Cup team’s 98% success at critical worker border applications

A meteorologist, nutritionist, diver, drone pilot and chef are among a plethora of different workers the visiting America’s Cup syndicates have been 98 per cent successful in getting border exemptions for.

With 422 successful requests for getting “critical workers” into New Zealand, and only 10 declined, the strike rate for the yacht teams owned by some of the US and Europe’s richest people has been high.

By comparison, New Zealand businesses have been only 19 per cent successful in their critical worker applications since July 2020.

Some of the roles which Ineos Team UK, American Magic and Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli have got into the country include: a drone electronics worker, six photographers, three nutritionists, seven PR and marketing staff, a driver, a diver TV production manager, a meteorologist and a “measurer”.

The discrepancy in success for critical worker applications between New Zealand businesses and America’s Cup teams is a source of irritation for South Auckland Immigration lawyer Aaron Martin.

The principal of NZ Immigration Law firm says while he has got a small minority of critical workers since our borders closed in March last year, it has generally been “extremely” difficult and there is no explanation or consistency to the decisions.

“At the moment New Zealand businesses are being starved of some serious crucial skills and you’ve got siloed bureaucrats who don’t really understand the businesses,” Martin said.

“There’s no guidance other than these very waffly definitions that immigration officers look at as to what employers should put forward.”

Martin said Immigration NZ (INZ) decline letters for critical worker applications never provide any justification and detail for the decision.

“The conclusion is just simply, ‘we don’t think you meet…’ and then the wording of the policy,” Martin said.

“These are people’s jobs. That’s what annoys me. If certain lobby groups shout loud enough, they’re getting preferential clearance and for one-time events like the America’s Cup where there are no tourist dollars being brought in for it.

“New Zealanders’ livelihoods are being put on the line because businesses are being starved of the skill and expertise that they need.”

An Immigration NZ (INZ) spokesperson said their role is a regulator to assess border exception requests based on categories and relevant instructions set out by the Government.

“All requests to bring workers in under the ‘other critical worker’ border exception category must meet the strict criteria as set out in immigration instructions. INZ has no ability to apply discretion when assessing these types of requests,” the INZ spokesperson said.

One of the two criteria under which a worker can be brought into New Zealand as a short-term (less than six months) “other critical worker” is if they undertaking a time-critical role which “is essential for the delivery of a… government approved event”.

And the 36th America’s Cup is a government-approved event.

INZ also stressed that since September 11, 2020, the critical worker success rate for Kiwi businesses has risen to 68 per cent.

There are of course many occupations in the critical worker list supplied by INZ that you would expect the competing yacht syndicates to need: boat builder, five sail designers, 14 engineers and three additional sailors outside the team members.

There are also the chief executives of all three syndicates – Ineos Team UK’s Jim Ratcliffe (worth $26 billion), American Magic’s Doug DeVos (worth $7b) and Prada’s Patrizio Bertelli (worth $5b).

New Zealand institute chief economist Eric Crampton reviewed the 36th America’s Cup Event business case back in 2018 and has provided extensive commentary on the financial loss the event will likely make.

He says the major injustice of the essentially open door policy for America’s Cup critical worker requests is the scarce spaces they take in managed isolation.

“There really is a small and fixed number of places in MIQ. Every person coming in really is at the expense of someone else who is left out, unless they can isolate outside of the MIQ system on a boat,” Crampton said.

“A tiny number of spaces in MIQ are held for entry by essential workers. New Zealand businesses cannot bring in critical skills that simply cannot be found here, because there is not space in MIQ.

“But the system can find room for different classes of chef/nutritionists, and different classes of event photographers, for the Government’s subsidised boat race.”

Immigration lawyer Martin says in recent weeks he has been refused a critical worker application for a first aid expert in mass casualty events like terrorist attacks who was trained by the US military and was coming here to run training programmes for the NZ Defence Force.

He also cites a horticulture expert for a large New Zealand plant business, with greenhouses “three times the size of Wellington Stadium”. The business claims they will lose $500,000 annually without the skilled worker.

“America’s Cup is easy for the Government to deal with. We’ll give them a special category, we’ll let them all come through. We won’t get criticised because all these very wealthy powerful people will all be happy and people will be happy because there’s sport going on.

“You have to ask what value is it creating to New Zealand? They put the Olympics on hold. Why was the America’s Cup not put on hold?

“It does smell a bit to be honest. When you talk to employers who look at getting guys in to help them fly boats around the harbour, who will then pack up and leave New Zealand.”


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