By Gill Bonnett of RNZ
A migrant who was refused government support when he lost his job says unjustified rejections and delays are being used to keep benefit-application numbers low.
Fewer than 600 migrants received a Work and Income benefit in the three months after it was introduced, compared with almost 11,000 under a scheme run for five months last year by Internal Affairs (DIA) and the Red Cross.
The Government announced in November that migrant workers who had lost their jobs because of the pandemic - as well as student and visitor visa holders who were facing financial hardship and could not get home - could apply for the emergency benefit.
Government figures show about four in 10 people's requests for help under that programme and the DIA/Red Cross Manaaki Manuhiri scheme were rejected.
A migrant, who asked not to be named, lost his hospitality job in August and was twice supported under Manaaki Manuhiri.
But that changed when he applied for a final month's support, and he said DIA staff became "vitriolic" when he challenged the reason.
He was then refused Work and Income's emergency benefit, which began in December, while he waited for his new job to start.
It was only after he insisted on a reconsideration of his case with senior staff and an MP that the decision was overturned.
He has since started his new job, but is pursuing an appeal with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) against the Work and Income decision on a point of principle.
"I was supposed to receive a review process, which was supposed to go through a review committee," he said. "This was back in January, I've gotten no follow-up, I've been calling every other day. It's become like a battle of attrition, to eventually make this process so delayed, that you just give up on asking for the benefit in the first place.
"What I find galling is they didn't give me a reason to disqualify me. There isn't any reason for any entity who has government funding and authorisation to not render emergency benefit for those migrants who qualify. People are probably being discouraged, not to apply."
He supplied a letter, which said "because you do not meet the qualifications for this benefit you don't qualify for this benefit".
He believes others will have been wrongly refused help, and that the reason behind it is to keep the numbers low.
"How many of these people are not able to defend themselves, how many are not getting the help that they need, and it's not safe to go back to Bangladesh, India, all the rest of it. That team of five million had a lot of 'us' involved, and we are proud that we got our new home back to safety.
"We will continue to work hard, and want to take care of our own, just like you do. In that five million were foreigners: some 'others' that were among you. It is time to reflect that reality with a more fair and open approach by the social development department and the powers that be."
In December, January and February, 579 applications for emergency benefit by temporary visa holders were granted.
That compares to 10,855 applications granted in the five months from July 1 until November 30, 2020 under the DIA/ Red Cross/Manaaki Manuhiri scheme.
'Lower than expected' up-take
DIA said it was proud to have helped more than 12,700 people.
"We were committed to ensuring those eligible and most in need received assistance and that those who didn't meet the eligibility requirements were provided with information and resources for other avenues of support."
In a statement to RNZ, the Ministry of Social Development said it could provide comment on the migrant's case, if he gave permission through a privacy waiver.
Some reasons why benefits could be refused were if visa holders were able to return home or had enough money to support themselves.
"Lower-than-expected take up could be due to a range of factors, such as Emergency Benefit being a relatively low level of support compared to the greater range of costs covered through the joint programme between the Department of Internal Affairs and the New Zealand Red Cross," MSD's client service delivery manager, Kay Read, said.
"Other possible factors for lower than expected take up could include: lower level of need than anticipated, different contexts of support, and improvements in seasonal work opportunities in the summer months."
She added that recognised seasonal employer workers accounted for almost half of applicants under the programme.
The statement also announced that the benefit had been extended until August 31.
"Those receiving the Emergency Benefit for temporary visa holders prior to 17 February 2021 and require ongoing payments, do need to visit a Work and Income service centre for a face to face appointment."