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The Great Kiwi Shut-Out

Stuck in America

William: New Zealand won’t let him in, so he’s off to Mexico for the surf.
William: New Zealand won’t let him in, so he’s off to Mexico for the surf.

All my nephew William wants to do is go home. He can’t. He is my namesake and my nephew. The kid can cook. He’s from New Zealand, but spends half of each year working as a private chef on the east coast. “When I left New Zealand in early June,” he says, “I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to get back in. I knew that you’d have to pay for your quarantine, so I was ready to do that, and do my two weeks in isolation.”

But the way this year has turned out, he is second-guessing ever leaving. For starters, this time around, his wife Sarah and 17-year-old daughter Grace stayed in New Zealand while he completed his contract. After five months, he tried to go home, but in a legally questionable move, the New Zealand government said no (even though a citizen’s right of return is widely recognized). They set up a quarantine system that limited incoming arrivals to the number of beds available — in tranches of 3000, to be selected by a lottery draw. Like everybody else, William faces months, possibly years, before his numbers come up. “We had another lottery last week,” he says. “I had a maybe 1 in 10 chance. There were 3000 between me and the winners.” 

William is lean, fit, a fanatical skier and surfer, and lucky in that his employers have let him extend his work contract. So when the New Zealand government told him he couldn’t come home, he didn’t face the crisis of money and family that many of the 17-30,000 New Zealanders who are currently waiting outside the gates have faced.

Still, “It’s a strange thing, to be told you can’t go home,” he says. “I’m coming up to my fifth month without my wife and daughter. If you just knew that a certain day was the day you would be going home, you could say, ‘Guys, let’s just hang to this point and we’ll be fine.’ But when it’s at this completely open-ended situation, it feels bad.”

He says that when he speaks to his friends here in America about the Great Kiwi Shut-Out, they get madder than anyone. “You know how Americans are about the right of the individual. They cannot even fathom this thing! And I get this across the social spectrum of people I know. I’m a lucky man. I’ve got wonderful, wonderful friends in the States. I’ve been working here a long time. And I’ve got a great community, and wonderful community support. I’m going to take a trip down south of the border, get some surf, and wait it out! I’m not on Struggle Street. Not like some people who are in dire straits, waiting to get back home. I’m not destitute, lonely. Yes, in limbo a certain way, but I’ve got a lot of loving people here. They’re like my family.”

So, what does he look forward to most? “Cuddling my wife and kid. I miss being with my family. And a good feast of paua [abalone], that’s for sure.”

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William: New Zealand won’t let him in, so he’s off to Mexico for the surf.
William: New Zealand won’t let him in, so he’s off to Mexico for the surf.

All my nephew William wants to do is go home. He can’t. He is my namesake and my nephew. The kid can cook. He’s from New Zealand, but spends half of each year working as a private chef on the east coast. “When I left New Zealand in early June,” he says, “I had no reason to believe I wouldn’t be able to get back in. I knew that you’d have to pay for your quarantine, so I was ready to do that, and do my two weeks in isolation.”

But the way this year has turned out, he is second-guessing ever leaving. For starters, this time around, his wife Sarah and 17-year-old daughter Grace stayed in New Zealand while he completed his contract. After five months, he tried to go home, but in a legally questionable move, the New Zealand government said no (even though a citizen’s right of return is widely recognized). They set up a quarantine system that limited incoming arrivals to the number of beds available — in tranches of 3000, to be selected by a lottery draw. Like everybody else, William faces months, possibly years, before his numbers come up. “We had another lottery last week,” he says. “I had a maybe 1 in 10 chance. There were 3000 between me and the winners.” 

William is lean, fit, a fanatical skier and surfer, and lucky in that his employers have let him extend his work contract. So when the New Zealand government told him he couldn’t come home, he didn’t face the crisis of money and family that many of the 17-30,000 New Zealanders who are currently waiting outside the gates have faced.

Still, “It’s a strange thing, to be told you can’t go home,” he says. “I’m coming up to my fifth month without my wife and daughter. If you just knew that a certain day was the day you would be going home, you could say, ‘Guys, let’s just hang to this point and we’ll be fine.’ But when it’s at this completely open-ended situation, it feels bad.”

He says that when he speaks to his friends here in America about the Great Kiwi Shut-Out, they get madder than anyone. “You know how Americans are about the right of the individual. They cannot even fathom this thing! And I get this across the social spectrum of people I know. I’m a lucky man. I’ve got wonderful, wonderful friends in the States. I’ve been working here a long time. And I’ve got a great community, and wonderful community support. I’m going to take a trip down south of the border, get some surf, and wait it out! I’m not on Struggle Street. Not like some people who are in dire straits, waiting to get back home. I’m not destitute, lonely. Yes, in limbo a certain way, but I’ve got a lot of loving people here. They’re like my family.”

So, what does he look forward to most? “Cuddling my wife and kid. I miss being with my family. And a good feast of paua [abalone], that’s for sure.”

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