Management of New Zealand's newest retailer 99 Bikes are stuck in Australia, unable to enter the country despite significant ongoing investment and 45 jobs the chain has created in the economy.
99 Bikes, which has acquired national bike retail chain Bike Barn and is set to take over the company on July 1, has been unsuccessful in gaining special exemption for its key staff to enter New Zealand, despite other groups, including the international filming crew for James Cameron's Avatar film sequels, successfully gaining entry into the country on the grounds of business and economic activity.
The Government allowed the film crew to enter New Zealand despite no criteria for it existed in immigration rules.
• End of the road: Bike Barn sold, set to rebrand to 99 Bikes
• Premium - NZ faces big choice on immigration - are we ready?
• Premium - Landlord locks Auckland retailer out of shop for not paying $3700 rent
• Premium - Can malls survive the post-Covid environment?
99 Bikes purchased the assets and stock of Bike Barn, which has nine stores across the country, in a multi-million-dollar deal. A large portion of this was for existing stock.
Half of the Bike Barn store network will close as part of the new ownership, while five stores in Takapuna, Manukau, Wellington, Homebase and Hornby will remain open and rebrand to 99 Bikes.
Three franchised Bike Barn stores will remain open, company-owned stores will close.
Australian co-owner Matt Turner, managing director of 99 Bikes, said the company had nine staff - a handful of them senior managers - ready to relocate to New Zealand from Australia to run local operations.
Another staff member was hoping to relocate from Europe.
But New Zealand's strict rules for those allowed to enter the country during this time was making the task near impossible. New Zealand's Covid-19 free status was scrapped earlier this week following three new confirmed cases - all coming from international arrivals.
Two other 99 Bikes staff members, New Zealand citizens, had already moved back to New Zealand and were currently in quarantine, he said.
New Zealand's borders are currently closed to international visitors. No one is allowed into the country unless they are a New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident, or under special circumstances, due to the ongoing threat of Covid-19.
As well as the Avatar film crew, the Government has granted border exemptions for two America's Cup syndicate teams, and their families, to enter New Zealand to begin preparations for the next year's regatta.
Turner said 99 Bikes' staff had applied for an exemption to enter the country on the grounds of business activity, but each had their cases declined - on multiple occasions - and received "an automated response of a quick no".
"We've been applying every couple of days.
"The main problem I've heard is a lack of resource to consider [cases] in detail."
Turner's counterpart Daniel Gallagher, general manager of the business in New Zealand, has been refused entry onto two flights to New Zealand. He was supposed to be in the country to verify the stock valuation and a sign a final contract with the existing Bike Barn owners.
On Tuesday, Gallagher was booked on a flight to Auckland from Sydney, after flying to Sydney from Adelaide, but was unable to board.
Gallagher had all the documentation about his role in New Zealand with the company, he was let through by the Australian Border Force, but before he got on the international flight he was stopped as Immigration New Zealand said he did not have "pre-approval" to board the flight to New Zealand.
He is now staying in Sydney until he is allowed to board a flight to Auckland.
He had another flight booked to Auckland at midday, but has still not received the pre-approval from INZ.
Worst case scenario, 99 Bikes would have to depend on other existing staff already in the country to officially takeover the business. It had already hired 45 staff based in New Zealand, Turner said.
"We do have people on the ground that are going to start work for us in July but it is the key leadership [that is missing] ... we can make phone calls and we can work remotely, we can do it, but it's just not going to be as good support or leadership compared to if we were on the ground.
"It's not the end of the world but it is definitely going to make getting off to a good start a lot harder, and finishing the contract and keeping the business running smoothly through the transition period is not going to be done as well," Turner said.
The situation was frustrating, Turner said, as the company had made significant investment into New Zealand and would be directly helping with the country's economic recovery.
"We are willing to do our two weeks' quarantine and we've got a good reason to come in - if case numbers were really high and New Zealand was still at level 4 then we'd understand we might not be let in, but at the moment it feels like we would be let in if someone could hear the reasons."
Immigration NZ has been contacted for comment.
99 Bikes had an existing relationship with Bike Barn prior to the sale, through the distribution of certain bike brands. Turner said the owners of Bike Barns were wanting to exit the business and the 99 Bikes wanted to expand into New Zealand.
The retailer, owned by Pedal Group, operates 48 stores across Australia.
99 Bikes will operate five stores in New Zealand initially and will be increasing its store footprint. The company plans to open two new stores each year over the next 10 years.
The retail chain hopes to have 25 stores nationwide by 2030. Each store will create jobs for between six and eight people.
"We'll be building our stock levels up fairly quickly to $10-15 million, we've got orders in place to bring $10-15m worth of bikes into the country via factories overseas, and that's just in the short term," Turner said.
There was big opportunity for the chain in New Zealand as more people were looking to buy bikes, with increased demand on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.
"There's a bit of a bike boom in New Zealand, the opportunity in New Zealand is significantly higher now because of the pandemic."
99 Bikes employs about 600 staff in Australia.
In mid-May the Government passed legislation which gives it strong powers to apply a flexible approach to immigration policy and visas over the next 12 months.
The Immigration (Covid-19 Response) Amendment Bill 2020 allows it eight radical new powers to:
• Impose, vary or cancel conditions for classes of temporary entry class visa holders.
• Vary or cancel conditions for classes of resident class visa holders.
• Extend the expiry dates of visas for classes of people.
• Grant visas to individuals or classes of people in the absence of an application.
• Waive any regulatory requirements for certain classes of application (that is, waive any prescribed requirements that people need to fulfil to have their application accepted by Immigration NZ for assessment).
• Waive the requirement to obtain a transit visa.
• Suspend the ability to make applications for visas or submit expressions of interest in applying for visas by classes of people who are offshore.
• To revoke the entry permission of people who are deemed to have been granted entry permission.
Those powers should make a pragmatic response to the immediate immigration needs of employers much easier to deliver.
But so far there has been very little action on this front, which has proven both frustrating for many migrants left in limbo and businesses.