As debate heats up on when borders should reopen, an immigration expert has outlined what needed to happen in order to regain global mobility.
On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke on New Zealand's reopening plan, confirming businesses would be able to pilot a scheme by which 150 people self-isolated at home when arriving from overseas.
The Act Party launched its Covid-19 policy yesterday, while the National Party are due to release its own Covid-19 policy plans today after former PM John Key took aim at the government's pandemic response last weekend.
Professor Paul Spoonley, an Honorary Associate of Massey University and Associate of Koi Tū at the University of Auckland, said there is a lot of pressure on governments to resume international mobility in some way.
He said border restrictions had caused a chronic labour and skills shortages in economies, social and economic challenges for families and communities - who don't know when they will be able to meet in person again - and the anxiety for would be migrants who are left not knowing what will happen and when.
Spoonley said there are "interesting models emerging" that indicate what might occur for mobility to be regained, but all showed there are major hurdles to overcome and few signs of international co-operation.
"There are four possibilities although they are not exclusive, elements of each might co-exist in one setting," he said.
The first is pandemic proofing, similar to what happened after 9/11 terror attacks with international standards and procedures on "risk assessment, time-limited emergency travel restrictions, expanded data sharing and consistency on testing and screening" being put in place.
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"The key here is an agreed system that allows governments, airlines and various private sector players to verify health status, such as vaccination status, and the option to suspend travel at short notice," he said.
Regional agreements with friendly countries could allow travel bubbles, or "mobility with friends" like the one New Zealand had with Australia before the current outbreak.
Spoonley said there are new options in place to check and monitor travellers but most options do not move beyond the piloting stage, with "stark divisions" internationally as further variants of the virus emerge.
He said pre-pandemic status quo was the most unlikely scenario in the intermediate future and it would need Covid-19 to decline to such a point that it does not represent a significant threat.
"Even with careful pre- and post-departure arrangements and inter-country agreement, the nature of the pandemic and new variants will mean 'two steps forward, two steps back' in many instances," Spoonley said.
"The arrival of the Delta variant from New South Wales and resulting lockdown in New Zealand and in Australia is a rather salutary lesson when it comes to inter-country agreements on international travel."
Spoonley said a vaccine passport - with the issue of how to establish that a traveller is vaccinated, with what vaccine and the date of the vaccination, is still some way from being a reality.
He said it was also time for New Zealand to re-look at its immigration policies and settings.
The current suspension of systems for assessing and approving migrant visas was giving no long-term certainty, and Spoonley said many migrant workers who are here with needed skills were getting frustrated and are leaving.
"The next stage immigration system for New Zealand – policy settings, numbers, the mix of temporary and permanent, or skilled and lesser skilled, regional interests – urgently need some clarity to provide an indication of what employers and sectors can expect," Spoonley said.
"Alongside the future of immigration, it is also an opportune time to reconsider broader issues of training and skill upskilling, recruitment, retention as the nature of employment continues to change and labour scarcity becomes an even greater issue as demography reduces domestic labour supply.
Labour migration is important and needs to be recommenced, he said, but it requires local and international systems that deal with the public health risks of travel and the viral spread of Covid-19.
"Patience is challenging under these circumstances," Spoonley said.
"The hope is that high rates of vaccination and continuing public health measures will moderate health impacts. The lack of a plan in terms of mobility, including labour mobility, both locally and internationally, remains something of an ongoing challenge."
Spoonley's paper "(Im)Mobility and Migration" will be published on informedfutures.org site this week.