The Government was advised by its officials the chance of migrant workers needing support resulting from the lockdown was "low" - a situation that a week later was described as a "looming humanitarian crisis".

Days after the lockdown began on March 25, the All of Government Group advised ministers leading the Covid-19 response there were nearly 400,000 foreign nationals temporarily in New Zealand.

It estimated just over half of those were workers - about two thirds on working visas and the rest working holidays.

Like New Zealand citizens, the noting paper, dated March 30, said these workers "may be facing unemployment or income loss" as a result of Covid-19 and the lockdown, but that the chance of them seeking assistance was "low".


The paper - one of hundreds of previously-secret government documents released late on Friday afternoon - also acknowledged those workers would likely be unable to return to their home countries even if they wanted to.

Where necessary such workers could access accommodation assistance, "last resort" funds from Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups", and - for those with employment - the wage-subsidy scheme.

But just a week after the confidential paper was produced, Queenstown Mayor Jim Boult said there was a looming "humanitarian crisis" as more than 2000 workers on short-term visas had registered with the council for welfare assistance since the lockdown began.

They were getting $240 a week from a Civil Defence fund, but it was unlikely to be enough to cover food and accommodation, he said.

Even worse, the funding would stop when the lockdown ended, and he was worried many would be unable to meet basic living costs.

This week National Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said almost 11,000 people had registered with the local Queenstown Lakes District Council for emergency support, with 76 per cent migrants.

Community Law on Friday also told the Epidemic Response Committee there could be a "looming migrant welfare crisis" as many are now without work but unable to access a benefit, and along with potential migrant exploitation.

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First Union's Network of Migrants also warned of a "humanitarian crisis", and called for migrants to be granted welfare benefits to which other workers are entitled.

"Many migrant workers are stuck in New Zealand at the moment - some came to work jobs that may no longer exist and many lack the social and economic safety net that most Kiwis can rely on," organiser Mikee Santos said this week.

"We're particularly concerned for the times ahead when the wage subsidy is planned to end in June - we are already hearing reports of migrant workers living in cars, sheds and public spaces, and winter will be particularly tough, especially for those who are also supporting families in their home countries."

As of March 30, there were about 383,000 temporary student, visitor, and work visa holders in New Zealand.

Of those, 83,000 were people who had only planned to be in New Zealand for a very short period and could not secure a flight home.

The paper noted many of them were "anxious" to return home and warned demands to support them could increase if they were forced to remain in New Zealand.


However, the vast majority were temporary visa holders here on a more settled basis.

"There is a far larger group of temporary migrants in New Zealand who are here on a more settled basis, including students, temporary migrant workers, and partners/dependents of workers here on visitor visas," the paper said.

"They make up the bulk of the 383,000 visa holders.

"These people are not stranded in the same way.

"They had planned to remain in New Zealand for an extended period of months or years.

"Access to accommodation, insurance and funding for living costs was a condition of their
visas being granted and entry to New Zealand."


But like many New Zealanders, many of this group would be facing unemployment and
income loss.

"For some, there is a real risk of losing their accommodation where it is tied to their employer (such as for RSE workers).

"Those with expiring visas have had these extended through the issuing of an Epidemic Notice, providing the means to support themselves if they have, or can find, work.

"While they also have access to the Business Continuity Package, this will not assist those who are unemployed or are in need of accommodation."

The paper also advised evacuation of this group at this scale is "unlikely to be possible".

Yet for these groups it still advised the potential of seeking short-term support was "low".


As of March 30, there were 81,000 people in New Zealand on student visas, 67,000 were here for skilled work or work-to-residence, 45,000 here through relationship, 34,000 on working holidays, and 10,000 RSE workers.

This week the Government introduced an Immigration Act Amendment bill to Parliament, which temporarily amends immigration law to make it more flexible and responsive to the challenges posed by Covid-19.