'Isn't fair' - Auckland Uni professor 'essential' for top 100 ranking separated from family

Tom Dillane, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Feb 2021, 10:50AM
Professor Fernando Oliveira is waiting for temporary visa holders for dependents to be processed. Photo / Dean Purcell
Professor Fernando Oliveira is waiting for temporary visa holders for dependents to be processed. Photo / Dean Purcell

'Isn't fair' - Auckland Uni professor 'essential' for top 100 ranking separated from family

Tom Dillane, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Feb 2021, 10:50AM

Professor Fernando Oliveira made a pledge to his family in Singapore that he wouldn't venture outside Auckland without them.

To enjoy the beauty of a country that was separating them seemed a betrayal of sorts.

Instead, the 47-year-old's world has become more narrow since arriving in New Zealand on January 29 last year.

For his own sanity, his outlook does not extend beyond the close of each day in his third-floor office in the University of Auckland (UoA) Business School.

Phone calls to his wife and 14-year-old daughter are now only a weekend event because speaking daily "became too much" of an emotional strain and reminder of their mutual isolation.

"I used to plan a lot, what to do in the future and how to start a new life and now I just have no plans because the uncertainty is just too big," Oliveira said

"I stopped looking for schools, I stopped looking for a place to live. I just concentrate on doing the best I can every single day and try to do it as perfect as I can. But that's it. I plan nothing.

"You need to learn to live in solitude and be completely self-reliant. Then there is learned helplessness."

Oliveira is one of thousands of international workers who have failed in their attempts to get family members into the country since our borders were closed on March 19 last year.

What is particularly galling about this for Oliveira is the number of visa applications reliant on another temporary visa holder already in New Zealand that have been accepted.

Between March 1, 2020, and February 17, 2021, there were 32,873 temporary visa holders approved entry into New Zealand.

There were 1383 international citizens refused, which leaves a 96 per cent approval rate.

Oliveira is among the multitude who have not even had their visa application for dependents processed.

After being recruited to the UoA Graduate School of Management from the National University of Singapore, Professor Oliveira had planned to bring his wife and daughter to Auckland in mid-2020 after their school and employment obligations wrapped up.

The visa he entered NZ on was cancelled following the close of borders - voiding his ability to bring in dependents via it.

He says his visa applications for his wife and daughter made in early May last year have never been responded to.

Relaying this state of affairs to one of his University of Auckland colleagues triggered an anxiety in them both personal and professional.

Oliveira was a valuable asset in the game of world university rankings, and if his situation does not change it left few options beside leaving New Zealand and abandoning his new professorship.

A letter from Auckland Business School teaching fellow Jo Wright on behalf of Oliveira to his local Epsom MP, David Seymour, outlined the concern and sense of injustice his colleagues felt.

"I'm not sure if it's generally understood the level of knowledge, expertise and credibility that is required to be awarded the title of Professor – it's significant, and it's important – because people like Fernando are essential to The University of Auckland retaining its ranking in the top 100 Universities in the world," Wright wrote.

"Imagine then, how inequitable it seems when we read the article in the NZ Herald about 700 dependents of America's Cup participants being issued visas," Wright wrote.

"I appreciate that academia is not as cool as the America's Cup, but this appears to be a haphazard process of indiscriminately issuing dependents visas, and I think it's about time that the Government was held accountable to it."

Oliveira is equally cynical about the visa approvals for America's Cup dependents.

"Yep, if you're wealthy you can always get special treatment. That is not new. It's always been like that," Oliveira said.

"I'm paying taxes and I have no rights whatsoever. I have no property rights. I have no right to have my family with me. I don't understand the discriminatory treatment."

Oliveira says the type of visa he was advised by the university to obtain for speed and ease - a Work to Residence Visa - Talent from an accredited employer - may have been part of the problem.

"What I find more upsetting about this is the discriminatory treatment," Oliveira says.

"Colleagues of mine that arrived around the same time, just before the academic year starts, somewhere in January typically. They had applied for a permanent visa, they were able to bring their families [into NZ]."

Immigration NZ clarified in a statement that they have "ceased processing of most applications from individuals who are offshore unless they meet the strict border exception criteria".

"We still have a number of temporary migrants who are onshore who have submitted visa applications during the last year – these are being processed and that is what is reflected in those numbers," Immigration NZ said.

"The numbers may include some individuals who are offshore – but their application will only be finalised only if they have been granted a border exception to allow them to travel here."

Despite this, Oliveira says he doesn't feel uniquely unfortunate.

"I probably consider myself one of the most fortunate in the middle of what is going on. So I'm not particularly sorry for myself. There are many people with bigger families and less resources that are suffering more than I am."

But the sense of injustice to Oliveira, who is originally from Portugal, is clear.

"I can express my disgust in many words but it doesn't help. I think the Government has been very hypocritical by managing the public perception of the problem in a way that pleases their goals, and their goals are not always health care.

"If you are here on a work visa suddenly you are more likely to bring the virus. If you have an NZ passport you can go abroad - to Portugal and back - and somehow you're protected from the virus? It isn't fair."