New Zealand Red Cross and the Department of Internal Affairs have begun delivering a joint Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri programme for temporary visa-holders in hardship, but there are concerns that many are unaware of the humanitarian support on offer.
Visitor Care is part of the government’s Assistance for Foreign Nationals Impacted by COVID-19 programme, a $37.6 million fund announced on June 16 intended to help foreign nationals on temporary visas who, due to COVID-19, have found themselves without work or a source of income.
The programme is offering financial support for accommodation costs, as well as vouchers for food and winter products, to those who are unable to meet their basic needs and have exhausted all other options, including accessing a flight to return to their home country. It is expected to run for three months from July 1.
Visitor Care Communications and Marketing Lead Mary Baines said that in the first two weeks of the programme, Red Cross received applications from more than 150 people in the Queenstown-Wānaka area, and distributed about $98,000 of in-kind vouchers.
“We are concerned there may be thousands more people who are eligible but have not yet heard about this support,” she said.
There are currently thousands of foreign nationals in Queenstown who have lost their jobs, had hours reduced or are stranded in New Zealand, unable to return home. The final Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC) data report before welfare provision transitioned to Visitor Care on July 1 showed that QLDC were still receiving 200-300 requests for help a day.
Since the COVID-19 lockdown began, there had been 7,377 individual welfare requests in the Queenstown Lakes area, 5,330 of which were from people on employment or short stay visas.13,298 food vouchers had been distributed in Queenstown, and 1,319 in Wānaka.
“Many are in urgent need; some who are sleeping in cars or tents, many of whom have exhausted every avenue for help,” said Baines.
Rachel O’Connor, New Zealand Red Cross Project Lead for Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri, said that, although the project was operating across the whole of New Zealand, she was particularly concerned about the Queenstown-Wānaka area, which had been “hard-hit” by the pandemic, and had a high number of foreign nationals on work visas.
O’Connor believed that concerns about the impact on their visas were preventing some foreign nationals applying for help. “We can confirm this will not affect your visa status at all,” she said. It’s about making sure people have food and clothing. The information provided stays with the programme.”
“The more we get the word out, the more we can help people,” she added.
For more information about Visitor Care Manaaki Manuhiri or to apply for help, go to: www.redcross.org.nz/visitorcare.
View edition 985 of the Wānaka Sun here.