This week the New Zealand government launched its new MIQ website, which is now the main way New Zealanders overseas can attempt to get back into their country.
I mean, if you’re dying or have lost an arm, you may get lucky and the New Zealand government may make an exemption. But as I have written about before, it may also ignore you — or give your spot to The Wiggles (not joking). In true New Zealand style, if you are overseas but also an Orc, you may also get easy access to Aotearoa.
But for everyone else — it’s a bit trickier.
As I’ve written about on Webworm before, the old system was a shitshow where you got a spot based on razor sharp reaction times, blind luck, or the ability to hire a bot or person to do it for you.
Because in case you missed the memo, the New Zealand border is closely guarded to keep Covid out (which is a good thing to do). If you’re a citizen and overseas, and want to get back into New Zealand, there are a limited number of hotel rooms available for you to isolate in for two weeks. If you don’t get a spot, you don’t get in.
So as someone who does want to get back to New Zealand at some point in the next 100 years, I logged into the new system give it a go.
The system kicked in at 8am Monday New Zealand time. Thanks to the rotation of the earth on its gigantic phallic axis, in Los Angeles it was 1pm on a Sunday.
I went to the website, entered my passport number, and was transported into the virtual lobby. Over the next hour — until 9am New Zealand time — other people came and joined the lobby to. It didn’t matter when you joined over that hour — you just had to be in there by 9am.
Like an episode of 24, a clock started counting down to 9am. I was Jack Bauer but instead of fighting terrorism I was fighting my way back to New Zealand.
When my time ran out at 9am there wouldn’t be a nuclear explosion, but the door to the virtual lobby would slam shut, and the system would randomly assign each person in the lobby with a number.
That number would be your place in the queue. If you got “1”, you would be first in line, and the first to choose one of 3000 MIQ spots that were up for grabs. If you got “50” you’d be 50th in line and so on.
That’s the lottery aspect that makes the new system more fair over the old system, which was all based on reaction times.
The website gave a sobering statement right off the bat:
“Please note: there may be hundreds of people ahead of you in the queue”.
With that sober warning firmly lodged in my brain, at 9am the door slammed shut.
I was no longer in an episode of 24, rather it felt like I’d accidentally allowed my laptop to perform a systems update.
And so I sat there for what felt like an eternity, watching a status bar scroll and scroll and scroll:
And then BOOM — just like that, I discovered my randomly assigned place in the queue: 14,694.
I was 14,694th in the queue, with 14,693 people ahead of me.
Suddenly those earlier words seemed tame: “There may be hundreds of people ahead of you in the queue”.
I would have loved mere hundreds, but I had 14,693 to contend with.
Just over an hour later, 10.07am New Zealand time, all the rooms in November and December had gone.
Message last updated: 10:07
There are no more November or December rooms left. There will be another room release soon with more November and December rooms. If you intend to travel in November or December and do not want a date for any other month, please leave the queue. There are still rooms for September, October available.
As I stared at my number in the queue — now about 7000 (a big improvement) I got to thinking about who was in front of me.
Some of them would be just like me: Overseas kiwis looking to come home at some point.
Some would be those in dire or emergency scenarios that had been formerly rejected.
There would definitely be some journalists in there, just trying it on for size. With no intent of getting a spot, they’d abandon the queue at some point.
Some of those in the queue would be double ups — couples and families who would end up taking one MIQ room, but would have put all their passports in the ring. More family members vying for a spot, more chance at victory.
Many of those in front of me would be people already in New Zealand, simply looking to book a spot so they can leave New Zealand with the knowledge they could safely get back in.
For all I knew, 5000 of them were sitting in New Zealand wanting to go on an overseas holiday. Maybe the Wanaka couple was in the queue, wanting a holiday overseas away from the New Zealanders who want their still beating hearts on a plate while their carcasses are fed to rabid seagulls.
Look — whoever was in front of me, all power to them (except if they were the Wanaka couple, please don’t let your mom sue me for suggesting that).
Look — it was not my lucky day in the queue. After a few more hours my journey unsurprisingly ended with this message.
There will be another release of rooms in a few week’s time. Logic says there will be at least 3000 less people wanting rooms, so each time may get a little easier.
There’s something else interesting in this: while this system is more fair, it also looks worse. In the old system — no-one had any idea how many thousands of people were furiously clicking for a room. Now we know roughly how many people are wanting back into New Zealand — and because it was such a visual cue, everyone was taking screenshots and spreading them around:
With transparency, we see what the pressure really is. And it’s not a great look.
I wanted to share a few experiences that others had in that queue. I personally know two people who got a place. They were over the moon, and I’m excited for them.
I asked a few people to write to me about their experience — a little worldwide snapshot, if you will. Because wherever you are in the world, you have to admit this is kinda a crazy situation, right? As to be expected with a pandemic.
Mel, who’s currently somewhere in Australia
I didn’t sleep last night. I always find if I have to get up early for something (pre 10am), I just can’t drift off.
Usually it’s if I have to go to the airport. This time it’s the 3000/22,431st chance to go to the airport. Fuck, if I get in I’m going to get 15 Toblerones.
It feels wild, I am beginning to wonder if I even deserve to come home! It’s like those auditions on X Factor where you have to have the best sad story. I moved to Australia when the trans Tasman bubble was open, so I had little reason to believe I’d be sitting here at 6am getting endorphins from a big number getting slightly smaller.
Selfishly I’d just like to go home for Christmas. I’d like to spend Christmas with my 92 year old Poppa. He hasn’t been too well lately, so we aren’t sure how many more Christmases there’ll be.
I’m one of the very fortunate ones to not have a very sad story. Just miss my family. Ooh, I just saw it went down to 22,069.
Benji, somewhere in Mother-F’ing England
With summer in the UK winding swiftly to a close, and the regular programming of grey doom and gloom returning to the skies, I found myself staring down at my computer.
I was met with the familiar harsh yellow glare of the government managed isolation page, as if to warn me not to get my hopes up again.
Not being able to see my family since leaving for university has been tough, so as I waited nervously for the timer to count down and reveal my place in the queue to get home, I began to get excited — thinking that this new system may be different.
It felt like exam results day, an opportunity to see how my next few years may turn out.
This time, as the page reloaded and my nervous stomach dropped a tad, 24,320 flashed up on my screen.
For a split-second I missed the zero at the end, thinking I had got lucky, before the familiar sense of disappointment and sadness set in, as I released I was over 21,000 people away from getting one of the 3000 slots.
If this queue wasn’t virtual, and just a standard single file line, I would be over 10km from the entrance — what a nightmare!
Monty, overseas, somewhere that is not Aotearoa:
Being based on the other side of the world is hard at the best of times. Add into the mix a pandemic, lockdowns, and the sheer impossibility of retuning home — living 24 hours away feels suffocatingly difficult.
After refreshing for what seemed like a million times throughout June and July, when the New Zealand government halted all new MIQ slots in mid August, myself and thousands of other kiwis stranded abroad paused for a month and played the waiting game, hoping for a fairer, more equitable system than what the previous MIQ site delivered.
September 20th, 9am New Zealand time — September 19th, 10pm UK time: D Day
After pacing the streets of London trying to stay calm throughout the day, continuously repeating to myself “it’s out of your control Monty, it’s out of your control Monty”, I settled in with a big fat cup of tea, fired up the laptop, and sat, sighed, and shrugged as the lobby system spun it’s wheels and spat me out as… the 24170th user in line.
Although devastated, shutting my laptop, I couldn’t help but think about thousands of kiwis who are 1000 times more desperate to see loved ones, dying relatives, and just survive at home.
I two weeks time, we’ll rinse, repeat and buckle in for another try.
David again, here.
New Zealand is doing the right thing to keep Covid out while we vaccinate the population. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t document the trickle-down effects and weird spots it puts people in.
And for many, not being able to get home is a problem.
But also — a dose of cynical reality from my most cynical friend in New Zealand, who sent me this: