A young Kiwi golfer who has been trapped in the US for the past five months has nearly lost hope of getting home to her family after repeated failed attempts to secure a place in MIQ. Amelia Garvey talks to Jane Phare.
Pro golfer Amelia Garvey describes the MIQ "event" booking system as "a cruel game" that is taking an unacceptable toll on her and thousands of other Kiwis trying to get home.
The sportswoman, 21, has been in the US for a year and, since her debut as a professional at the US Women's Open in June and finishing her degree at the University of Southern California, has been trying to return to New Zealand.
But countless efforts to gain a place in New Zealand's hopelessly overburdened MIQ system have left Garvey disillusioned and emotionally strung out. She has gone online for an MIQ "event" many times, getting her hopes up only to have them dashed when she sees thousands of other Kiwis ahead of her in the queue.
"I think the closest I've been is about 7000 in the line, another time I was 19,000 in the queue. I feel really hopeless right now."
Since Garvey graduated she has been staying with college friends, couch surfing and staying in spare bedrooms.
"I'm house hopping but there's only a certain amount of time that you can do that. I'm feeling a little bit homeless. I don't know how much longer I can do this."
Garvey missed out on yet another MIQ attempt this week and, adding to her stress levels, her US visa expired at the weekend. Now, technically an overstayer, she is waiting to hear if US immigration authorities will grant her an emergency visa extension so that future access to the US to compete in golf tournaments will not be jeopardised.
Unable to get back to Christchurch to see her coach Ryan Lumsden, she has been forced to engage a new coach, Kiwi Grant Waite, who is based in the US.
Her parents, Beverley and Lee Garvey, of Christchurch, have been sending her money to help her support herself while she waits, but they are worried about the mental and emotional toll it is taking.
Beverley Garvey told the Herald that being stranded in the US was affecting her daughter mentally and emotionally.
Tears on Facetime
"We're really worried about her. We just want to get her home. It's not a nice thing to see your daughter in tears on her Facetime calls when you can't do anything. It's awful."
Garvey said she was grateful to friends and host families who had had her daughter to stay when she was travelling for tournaments.
"We are so grateful that she has got people like that over there. We're having to support her financially because obviously she can't earn any money at the moment."
Her daughter wanted to come back for Christmas last year but again couldn't get an MIQ place.
"It's a very sad situation. We were not able to get over there [to the US] ourselves for her graduation or her 21st."
Garvey said she was part of the Grounded Kiwis Facebook group and her daughter's plight was one of thousands of stories shared by families.
"The stories would break your heart. Going through the torturous experience of the MIQ lottery every week, it is not helping anybody's mental health," she said. "Families need to be together now more than ever with what we're going through."
Speaking from the Florida home of pro golfing friend Patty Tavatanakit, Amelia Garvey said she was disappointed there was no priority system for professional sports people, apart from a few high-performance competitors.
"It feels like a cruel game when you're into that [MIQ] waiting room and they say the event starts in an hour," she said.
"I feel really lost. It's a sense of hopelessness. The lack of certainty is probably the worst part."
Garvey's golfing career is now on hold until tournaments begin again in February.
"That's why I want to get home for the summer because if I don't, then I'll be playing from February through to Christmas 2022 [overseas]. This is my one shot to get quality time back home. "
If Garvey can't get a place in MIQ, she is considering sacrificing some tournaments early next year. Her mental skills coach in New Zealand has told her that wellbeing is a priority for a professional athlete and that she will need some time to refresh and see her family again.
"Those are things that you've got to really place priority on as a professional athlete," she said.
"It's taking a toll on my motivation to get up and train when all I'm trying to do is get home and see my family before I start my season next year. My energy is being used in the wrong places right now."
Beverley Garvey said the reasons Kiwis want to get home should not matter.
"You should be able to get back into your homeland. It just should be a basic human right. I think it's absolutely appalling how human beings are being treated right now."
She paid tribute to Sir Ian Taylor for the work he was doing on publicising his #151 Off The Bench self-managed isolation trial. Taylor had been in touch with Amelia in the US for which the family was grateful, she said.
"We want to thank Sir Ian for everything he and his team are doing to think creatively and outside the square to try and get people home, to reunite with their loved ones."
His trial provided a beacon of hope for people trying to return to New Zealand.
"It has helped to lift Amelia's spirits which is so important when you're feeling hopeless."