Whangārei-based yachties facing sailing through cyclones are pleading with the Government to let them stay until next year despite their visas expiring in April.
Hundreds of people who sailed to New Zealand in late 2019 could be heading into unsafe waters as although the South Pacific cyclone season officially ends at the end of April, the sailing community says there is no guarantee of safe conditions until June.
The only country in the Pacific accepting international yachties is Fiji, which is the normal destination for people who want to avoid New Zealand's winter. Pre-Covid, these sailors would travel back to New Zealand in November for summer and to avoid the cyclone season.
But New Zealand borders are closed and the journey would not be an option for sailors who left for Fiji in June, leaving them at risk of the two cyclones that hit Fiji on average every season.
As a result, yachties believe the safest option would be to stay in New Zealand until June next year, after the next cyclone season, when other Pacific countries may have their borders open.
Cindy Smith, 65, from the United States, has been in New Zealand since late 2019 and said the uncertainty is causing significant anxiety among the international yachtie community in Whangārei.
Some had even received letters from New Zealand Visa Application Centre in Beijing, which said they must leave the country by February 25. Smith said it was likely those who received letters would get the V3.80 visa and stay until April.
However, a stay until April did nothing to quell fears of sailing in May or towards the end of the year from Fiji.
"Many of us are very frightened of the cyclone season starting in November and December this year because nothing's open," she said.
Smith was quick to express her gratitude to the Government, which made multiple visa extensions and introduced a two-month Covid-related visa, for allowing yachties to stay in a relatively Covid-safe country.
Many yachties had been heavily involved in local volunteering groups, such as Red Cross, SPCA, and Whangārei Native Bird Recovery Centre. They banded together to raise more than $4000 through events and a cookbook to provide marine apprenticeships to local high school students.
A recent survey by the Whangārei Marina detailed how international yachties spent about $80,000 annually in the local economy.
Smith, who was meeting Whangārei MP Emily Henderson on Saturday to discuss their predicament, hoped the Government would consider allowing them to stay.
"We're here, we're spending money, we've complied with Covid-19 regulations and we'd like to stay if we can."
The Covid-19 short-term visitor visa, which could be applied for multiple times, requires proof people are attempting to arrange travel home. Seeing as many yachties have no home but their vessel, it is suspected they would not qualify for the visa after April.
Whangārei Marina manager Brian Caulton, also on the New Zealand marine industry association executive committee, said the industry was supporting international yachties in their plea to stay until next year.
"I believe, as New Zealanders, the Government is sympathetic to this cause, I can't see any reason they wouldn't [let them stay] - they're not a burden on our society."
An Immigration New Zealand spokesperson encouraged people to call (09) 914 4100 to discuss their situation. For more information, visit www.immigration.govt.nz.
Immigration minister Kris Faafoi could not be reached for comment.