Migrant ECE teachers and their union win right to reunite with families

8 September 2021

Migrant ECE teachers and their union are elated after winning changes to Immigration NZ's visa rules. The changes, published this week, will allow these teachers to reunite with their partners and children for the first time in almost two years.

Most of these teachers came to New Zealand to study teaching, and had intended for their families to join them as soon as they'd settled in New Zealand - but became unexpectedly stranded and separated due to the pandemic. Many have suffered significant anxiety and stress after not seeing their partners and small children since the start of 2020, or even earlier.

Because of a severe teacher shortage, particularly in ECE, the Government announced exemptions to border closures in July to bring in 300 new teachers and their families - but didn't afford those teachers already working here the same right.

Uniting under the banner of their union, NZEI Te Riu Roa, a group of affected teachers met with Government MPs from the Education and Workforce Select Committee last month to share their stories and call for change.

ECE teacher Stanley Zhang says "I think we just won one battle, and I believe this could encourage other teachers to know the power of the union [and] give people hope".

NZEI Te Riu Roa says the change will also mean these teachers are much more likely to choose to stay in New Zealand, where they are filling critical vacancies during a severe nationwide teacher shortage. The union's President, Liam Rutherford, says that prior to the announcement many of the teachers say they had considered returning to their home countries in order to rejoin their families - and some had already left.

"This is a win for these teachers, who absolutely deserve to reunite with their own families, especially after all the support they've given tamariki here in Aotearoa throughout the pandemic - but it's also a win for all New Zealanders. We're thrilled that this change means that these teachers, who are critically needed and valued, will now be far more likely to stay and continue teaching here."

Excerpts from the teachers' stories:

  • "I look after tamariki in New Zealand and I devote myself in supporting them to achieve the aspirations of their whānau. But my own baby does not have his daddy for nearly two years."
  • "My family, in this tormented state, is separated between the two countries. I thought about leaving for home a thousand times, but I spent so much money and time here, to achieve our common dream, and I really want to bring my family here."
  • "Sometimes I don't know if it's worth it. Should I give up and go back to my country? At first, I just thought that a family could live happily together for a short separation for a few months. I really didn't expect that I would live here alone for more than two years."
  • "The exemption announced on 12th July is a joke. MOE only considered how to support offshore teachers to come into NZ. Why don’t you support the teachers who are now in NZ with a job?"
  • "I came to New Zealand in December 2019. Now I am working full-time at an early childhood centre, and I have to raise my four-year-old son all by myself because, unfortunately, my husband left New Zealand just a couple of days before the border closure. Since then, my family have been forced to live apart. My husband has been desperate to reunite with us but couldn't make it back."
  • "My daughter was due to come back after her Christmas holiday and start our new chapter of life in 2020 together with us. But due to COVID-19, she has been stuck in China for more than one and half years. My daughter is six years old; I missed her five-year-old and six-year-old birthday."
  • "Can you imagine how guilty I feel to my child when I see parents come to pick up their children, and the children happily throw themselves into their parents’ arms? I even can't hug my daughter, even if I cuddle so many children during my work time. What a ridiculous thing!"

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