Tagata Pasifika The Pacific voice on New Zealand television since 1987

Fijian builders see opportunity in new residency visa

Soana Aholelei | Reporter / Director

Last month Government introduced a one-off residency visa aimed at providing a pathway to help migrant workers and businesses impacted by Covid. Among those keen to take advantage of this opportunity are two Fijian builders, who have the full support of their employer. 

It’s another busy day of work onsite in Ōtara. Fijians Jona KalounIwaqa and Peter Munivai are tidying up a few things on an almost completed renovation.

As qualified carpenters, both men moved from Fiji over three years ago for work. Both had secured jobs and work visas before leaving the Pacific nation.

“I saw in the paper a vacancy in New Zealand looking for carpenters then I applied for it,” Jona says.

“I’ve been working around about 15 years back in Fiji. Then I had the opportunity to come here,” Peter added.

The duo says they came for the chance to upskill and the promise of better work conditions and money to support family back in the islands.

residency visa nz Fijians Jona KalounIwaqa and Peter Munivai are taking advantage of a new one-off residency visa with the full support of their employer. Photo: Soana Aholelei, Tagata Pasifika
Fijians Jona KalounIwaqa and Peter Munivai are taking advantage of a new one-off residency visa with the full support of their employer. Photo: Soana Aholelei, Tagata Pasifika

“That’s the big thing for us, especially in Fiji; there are so many things you did manually, just by your power,” Jona says.

“In Fiji, we have just have one machine and everybody has to share. But this here, you have your hand tool and just cut the timber and saw it out.”

But it hasn’t all been what was promised, as current employer Moana Smith — who runs Smith & Smith Design and Renovation — saw first-hand.

“They were with me for a few months, and I didn’t know where they were living. I knew it was in Mt Roskill, so I went over, and they were living in really bad living conditions,” she says.

“They were living in a basement of this house, and I walked in, couldn’t believe my eyes.”

Jona says that the first time Moana saw their living accommodation, she almost started to cry.

Not wanting people who worked for her living in such dire conditions, Moana promptly found suitable, affordable and healthy accommodation for Jona and seven of his Fijian friends.

As well as helping with a new home, Moana is also assisting Peter and Jona with their application under the new one-off residency visa.

“The visa situation will make it so much easier; they have job security, they have stability and they have peace of mind that they are not renewing their visa every three years. So for myself, I can provide them with long term contracts, which helps me immensely,” says Moana.

residency visa: Fijians builders Jona KalounIwaqa and Peter Munivai with Moana Smith.
Fijians builders Jona KalounIwaqa and Peter Munivai with their employer Moana Smith. Photo: Supplied

Peter says the new visa is good for fellow Fijian and other workers already here in New Zealand.

But while the new resident visa will be available to most work-related visa holders, including essential skills, Work to Residence and post-study work visas and their immediate family members, the
qualifying criteria is tough, and experts say only a small percentage of our Pacific applicants will qualify.

For Māngere immigration advisor Ngaluafe Fale, some of her clients will not qualify for the 2021 Resident Visa.

She says they include those on a visitor’s visa and on short term visas, like seasonal workers who come from Tonga to pick apples. Anyone else who doesn’t have a valid visa will also not be eligible.

For those who are eligible, like Peter and Jona, the opportunity this visa offers to bring families together is overwhelming.

Missing his wife and four children, an emotional Peter says, “It’s true we haven’t gone back to see our families, but we are lucky working, supporting gifts, sending money to our families. Yeah, it’s quite hard.”

Jona also has two young children and his wife back in Fiji.

“To have a family and the kids, it’s totally different to leave them behind at the airport. It’s very hard. It’s all for the kids,” Jona says, wiping back the tears.

As for Moana, she has nothing but admiration for the two Fijians.

“I see how much they sacrifice day in day out. They’ve really earned this. It’s earned, and they are so deserving.”

For more information on the 2021 Resident Visa go to www.immigration.govt.nz

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