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commentsNew Zealand has been under backfire from the headline story of a French au pair, who has been mishandled by border officials at Christchurch International Airport.

Last week, a 17-year-old French au pair was refused entry permission as she was suspected of taking a job opportunity for NZ nannies. She was accompanying an Australian family on the family trip for a week, where the costs of travel were paid for. She was put in a police custody, where she was treated like an inmate.
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The decision was based on the official’s concern that the teenager might be in breach of the visitor visa condition by receiving ‘gain or reward’ in return for looking after the host family’s young children.

As far as the border officials are concerned, the harsh decision was justified because he or she believed the gain or reward, be that accommodation or food, must be made available to a New Zealand nanny.

Eventually, Immigration New Zealand had to apologize officially for its action after the prime minister had said it was a harsh action.

This was not the first nanny story that made New Zealand became the subject of international disrepute when the border official refused entry to a 19-year-old Chilean teenager, who were treated the same as she was led to admit to a border official that she might look after her cousins while their parents were away. This story too caused NZ to be internationally ridiculed.

While entitlement to work in NZ is a privilege only available to qualified foreign nationals; the border officials have to realize the axiomatic rationale that the policies exists to protect NZ labour market.

The headline stories that brought NZ into disrepute call for a strong need for putting in place an operational guideline that requires the border officials to consider the ‘big picture’ of their entry permission instructions.

In practice, the officials could ask themselves questions like:

  • How serious is the risk this teenaged nanny poses to the NZ babysitting industry?
  • What are the balancing factors – i.e. negative publicity – to be considered before refusing entry permission to this teenager and stationing her in a prison cell.

Policies exist for a reason. Preventing overseas nationals from working in New Zealand is to protect the NZ labour market. It is a question of degree and balancing consideration required of reasonably minded officials. Otherwise, INZ might as well get the travellers to go through a computerised entry test similar to that of a license test at AA centre.

More than 3 million people visit New Zealand every year. Latest records show that export has become the biggest export sector, making up for the troubled dairy industry. If we do not fix our gatekeeping issue sooner rather than later, we may end up with a tale-wagging-the-dog situation. The tales that scare every traveller off the country.

INZ has promised the French au pair that the border procedure would be reviewed. We will need ask how they get on with this.

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