Coronavirus: New Zealander heads to Japan to bring husband home


Wendy Harnett is flying to Tokyo next week in an attempt to bring her Japanese husband back to New Zealand.

Monique Ford/Stuff

Wendy Harnett is flying to Tokyo next week in an attempt to bring her Japanese husband back to New Zealand.

Wendy Harnett is packing for “the indefinite”.

The coronavirus pandemic has kept the Wellington woman separated from her husband for four months – now, she is heading to Japan in the hopes she can bring him back to New Zealand with her.

Harnett has applied to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) three times so that her Japanese husband Koji Arihisa can be with her in Karori. All of the applications have been rejected.

Fed up with the constant rejection and uncertainty, Harnett will fly to Tokyo next week to attempt to get Arihisa a travel exemption.

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“I’m not returning to New Zealand without him,” Harnett said.

Currently, INZ rules allow the partners, dependent children or legal guardians of New Zealand citizens to enter the country if they are entering with a New Zealand citizen.

However, it isn’t known how these rules will be applied with the borders still closed to everyone except New Zealand citizens and returning residents.

Even if the couple is successful in getting the visa, Harnett is prepared to spend months in Japan waiting for the documents to be approved.

Karori woman Wendy Harnett met her husband Koji Arihisa in Tokyo while she worked as a tour guide.

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Karori woman Wendy Harnett met her husband Koji Arihisa in Tokyo while she worked as a tour guide.

She will also have to quarantine on arrival in Tokyo for two weeks before Harnett can be reunited with her husband.

The 54-year-old Karori resident has criticised the government over a perceived lack of transparency regarding the criteria for Covid-19 border exemptions.

“I just lost heart in the last week and if I didn’t try to bring him back, I’d face an indefinite absence from him,” she said.

“I’m not willing to tolerate that … I’d rather be stuck there with him.”

The couple’s wedding anniversary was last week and when she was out of quarantine, they planned to go on a trip around Japan. Harnett has a spouse visa which allows her to stay in Japan.

Harnett, who has been speaking to other people in similar situations, said it was disheartening as many of them did not meet the “strict” criteria.

“We see a real injustice that we cannot be with our families.”

She described herself as a “test case” while packing for the “indefinite”.

“I think if I’m successful, most people will definitely follow my lead.

“When you love someone you won’t stop at anything, it’s simple.”

Nicola Hogg, Immigration New Zealand general manager of border and visa operations, said protecting public health was paramount.

The bar for being granted an exception to border restrictions was set high to help stop the spread of Covid-19. All requests were considered against strict criteria, she said.

She confirmed Immigration received an application for a work visa from Koji Arihisa on February 28, and a visitor visa on June 7. The applications had not yet been processed, she said.

He had also made three requests for an exception to border restrictions as a partner of a New Zealand citizen or resident since June 8. None of these had been granted as the criteria hadn’t been met.

On June 18, changes to the criteria came into effect, which meant partners and dependents of citizens and residents who have a relationship-based visa would no longer need to be travelling with their family member to be granted an exemption.

“However under the new criteria, Mr Arihisa still does not meet the exception criteria as he does not have a relationship-based visa and is not ordinarily resident in New Zealand, having only travelled to New Zealand once in 2017,” Hogg said.

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