One Couple’s Adventures with the New Zealand Immigration Service

Every good story requires at least two elements to keep a reader’s interest beyond the first paragraph (or for those of us with A.D.D. the first sentence). One is a conflict of some nature that the main character has to overcome.  Another is romance or at least the possibility of an exciting relationship.  The third (I said at least two) is a cute puppy.  Fortunately our story so far contains one-and-a-half of these critical elements, so hang in there!  Sorry, no puppies though…although we were thinking about getting one so maybe that counts.

In our case the challenge is the New Zealand Immigration Service, the NZIS, and the romance is with a country, New Zealand.

Since I’m happily married, there won’t be any illicit affairs or anything.  And in case my wife is reading this, “Hi honey, I love you!”  And when I say “challenge” with the NZIS, I mean it in the most positive manner.  And in case the NZIS is reading this, “Hi honey, I love you!”

My wife Sandy and I moved to New Zealand recently. We started the immigration process around October of last year and arrived with visas in hand June 1st.  Enter our nemesis, the NZIS.  Now again and in all fairness, our experience with the NZIS has been very positive.  And again if they are reading this…very positive!  As anyone in the U.S. can attest, dealing with government agencies is usually, well, a pleasant experience…not!  But the NZIS has been very responsive and have actually met all of their obligations.

The thing is, the good people of New Zealand have charged them with ensuring that immigrants are qualified to be here.  Imagine!  They require potential citizens to speak the language (English) fairly fluently, have skills that will benefit the country and its peoples and, get this, will assimilate properly.

As life-long Americans, this whole concept was completely foreign to us (pun intended)! There are stories about attorneys and post hole diggers moving here from elsewhere, not finding work in their chosen field and ending up driving cabs or running convenience stores…not exactly a win-win for them or New Zealand.  So the NZIS has recently tightened the reigns as to who they will and won’t let in…who will benefit the country and who won’t – no offence to post hole diggers…you’re still welcome here.

Well you can imagine our shock when we found out that we couldn’t just pack up our two cats, a few of our belongings and move in!  Born and raised in the United States we were brought up in a culture that basically thinks that as part of a great super-power we can do whatever we darn please as long as we have the money to do it.

Kiwis are very determined to keep their country clean, green and stocked with good people.  They keep the gates monitored at all times and with the exception of the odd Israeli spy, do a pretty good job of only letting in decent, qualified emigrants.

How I got in I’ll never know (just kidding NZIS, ha, ha.)

So moving to New Zealand isn’t easy. There is a lot of paperwork and the NZIS has a bad habit of changing the rules on a regular basis…mostly on days that begin with T or S…and without warning.  We endured many days of nail biting, teeth gnashing and hand wringing. The “not knowing” if we were going to be accepted or not was probably the hardest part of our journey.  It’s still not over, but we’re very close now.

How did we do it? As I’ve said, my wife and I are fairly rational people not given to doing many crazy things. Moving from the northern to the southern hemisphere would fall into most people’s category of lunacy including our own. But we were at an unusual point in our lives where the planets seemed to be aligned and we had the opportunity to make a real life decision.

You know how it is when you and your significant other are out shopping and you both see something you both like…so you buy it right away because that so rarely happens, even if you don’t need it? It was sort of like that.

Sandy’s work as a consultant with a large corporation was coming to an end.  At about the same time my work with a large corporation was about to come to an end as well.  My mega-company employer had merged, yet again, with another mega-company and this time I was given an option…did I want to stay or take what was behind door number three – a decent severance package?  Staying meant working in an even bigger company and relocating to a less-than-desirable part of the U.S. where they have bugs the size of dinner plates and 100 percent humidity when it’s not raining.  Tough decision I know, but I chose door number three.

This all happened at about the same time that we took a couple of weeks vacation to visit a country we had heard about (my wife had been there once before) but didn’t know too well.  We’d seen the beautiful landscape in the Lord of the Rings movies and thought, “Wow!  What an incredible place!  We knew a couple of people from New Zealand and they seemed to be pretty well-rounded and nice.  They spoke highly of their homeland too.  So we thought “Let’s go there!” so we did.  Once we arrived we weren’t really prepared for the conversations that followed.  Our wide-eyed talks included words like “unbelievable, beautiful, astonishing, unpolluted, happy, blue skies, peaceful, friendly, fresh air, even that over-used term ‘nice’!”  And one thought that began to creep ever so slowly into our talks was “Hmmm, how lucky the people are that live here, wouldn’t this be a great place to live?!”

Eventually that thought took over our lives.  We were out of work and had some money saved.  We had family to consider, but we’d never had children (and probably would have moved to avoid paying for their college even if we did so good thing we didn’t) and we found ourselves with the time to think about what we really wanted to do when we grew up.  Our roots were pretty deep with good friends, our church and things to do, but the call of the wild was ever present.  We’d considered all sorts of options; finding more work where we lived; moving to other parts of the country and doing the same thing, starting a new business somewhere…or really making a new life for ourselves.  We did a lot of comparison research, listed options, the pros and cons of different cities, states, even countries. New Zealand kept coming out on top.  Plus we were becoming more disenchanted with things in the U.S. daily.  The more we thought about it, the better New Zealand sounded.  Don’t get me wrong, we’re still proud to be Americans, but it’s getting harder and harder to live the American dream in the United States.  We ultimately decided to take things to the next level and find out what it would take to move somewhere totally new and start a new life.

Excerpted from “We Did It!, Part Deux: Moving To New Zealand” in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 62.

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