ang bagong bayanihan: joining the 2 sides of the NZ pinoy community

I am not the owner nor do I seek to profit from this pic. Thanks and acknowledgment for the photo to!

DURING PINOY MASS in our town every first Sunday of the month, kabayan (our own word for fellow Filipinos, literally “townmates”) fill the church to bursting. Through prayer, song and sermon, it is a solid sea of brown and kayumanggi (olive skin), Hands are held, voices blended, and spirits joined in one family of worship and praise. Here there are no Tagalog, Ilokano, Bisaya or Ilonggo here. No dilawan, loyalist, Duterte diehard or any other. Just Pinoy, under one roof.

After Mass beside the church related activities, most of our kabayan go their own way. Still we don’t see the differences, but the subtle divisions start to show. Some of our churchgoers are big families that are truly extended. Most are siblings who’ve arrived in New Zealand one by one, and the next generation are already starting to grow up. Others are smaller families, and still others are singles and new couples, obviously relative newcomers.

It’s not obvious, but the red line between the very-happy Pinoys and the happy-but-could-be-happier counterparts is best described by two words:  permanent residence. For sure the second category of kabayan are still happy, being able to work here, live with their families and give them a standard of living not possible back home, but as the term implies, there is no permanence in all this happiness and contentment. Uncertain as it is, it could all be gone next year.

Of course, kabayan, going through the first part of this blog, your next question is almost immediate: why haven’t these fellow Filipinos gotten their permanent resident status? Well, there are many reasons, but these are the chief :

Qualifications. To grab that precious permanent resident status, there are a few ways to do it, called pathways, depending on your job, your experience, or your wages (as a group, let’s call them qualifications). Some pathways require only one of these, others two, others all. As you can guess, our kabayan may have one but not the other, or nearly one, or not at all. They get in the house via a “side door” (work visa pathways), but aren’t welcome to stay the whole time, because you have to get it through the “front door” (residence visa pathways).

Rules change and visa holders don’t always adjust as well. Migration policy, and by extension visa policy, doesn’t always rely on logic and common sense. At the start of a majority government’s business cycle (soon after winning the national election), it may set policies based on a balance of national development and migrant-friendly labor market.  Midway into the usual first four years, the government may decide that such a policy may not sit well with its voters or supporters, and jump into a locals-first, anti-migration (for lack of a better term) policy. In fairness, this can happen with either of the major parties, no party is immune to the kapit-sa-patalim (or “the end justifies the means”) syndrome.

What does this mean for kabayan? The bottom line is, they have to contend with a potential change of rules almost every 18 months, designed to keep guest workers like Filipinos in New Zealand but at the same time be difficult enough to show the locals, “we’ve kept it hard for outsiders so you can get work more easily, but you just aren’t trying!” In short, looking good for their voters at our kabayan’s expense. Of course the reality’s not that simple, it’s a little more complicated than my kwento  but you get the idea.

Three year stand-down period. I single out this rule among many others because it’s a killer among the new rules set by the government for work visa holders. If you’re earning less than NZ$25 an hour, you’re considered unskilled, no matter how important you are to your employer and no matter how indispensable your skills are. After the third year of work from the time of this rule’s effectivity (last year I think), you’re “stood down” and have to go home regardless of your circumstances. Don’t ask me about the rationale or wisdom behind this rule, just imagine how many not just of our kabayan but of all other work visa holders will be forced to go home within the next couple of years, because of this mindless, obviously brainfreeze rule??? Any chance or plans you’ve got towards permanent residency will now have to give way to this inexplicable, cruel rule.

Volumes of applications and snail’s pace of bureaucracy. Sheer work visa applications amount to over 25,000 a  year, and around only 200 staff to evaluate, assess and grant or deny these applications. The usual waiting time is a month plus for an application, longer if there are issues or problems with the applications, and even more if the application is complicated and involves multiple persons, situations or employers.

It’s not alarming or urgent enough for drastic action to get Pinoys already NZ residents to get involved, but we are part of the same country, the same barangay, and the same church. Surely that should be enough reason for us to get closer to the issue, especially when at least 1 out of 10 Filipinos in New Zealand are work visa holders who’re having a hard time applying for permanent residence.

If you’re friends neighbors or even churchmates with anyone whom you think is a work visa holder, and isn’t on the fast track towards residency, please do your best to give support, in your own special way. On the other hand if you think as a work visa holder you need extra help in getting that precious PR status, don’t hesitate to ask help from kabayan, your church, or even your Member of Parliament. you might be surprised to find out how willing people are to help.

In our great-grandparents’ days, the menfolk of the whole barrio would spend half the day helping a neighbor move house , literally moving the house on poles with nothing but their bare hands, and asking for nothing but buko and freshly steamed rice and tuyo afterward. This same renewed spirit of bayanihan, we wish, should prevail between the permanent residents and their kabayan counterparts in our new home Aotearoa. Diyos nawa.

Thanks for reading, mabuhay!