‘Only Russia has this problem’ At least 700 Russian nationals are stuck in New Zealand with expired passports
For more than a year, Russian nationals residing in New Zealand have been unable to renew their expired passports. The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed to Novaya Gazeta that at least 700 people are currently facing this issue. Without valid passports, Russians living in New Zealand can’t renew their visas, apply for jobs, buy houses, or travel anywhere other than Russia. But amid the coronavirus pandemic, Moscow simply isn’t sending any new travel documents. According to Foreign Ministry protocol, new passports can only be delivered by diplomatic couriers — who have stopped traveling to New Zealand due to its mandatory two-week quarantine policy.
Ekaterina Vlyzko moved from Moscow to Hamilton, New Zealand a little over two years ago, to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Waikato. After graduation, the 33-year-old stayed for another year to work and planned to apply for permanent residency. But this would require a valid passport — and Ekaterina Vlyzko, like hundreds of other Russian nationals residing in New Zealand, is having problems getting her hands on one.
In conversation with Meduza, Vlyzko explained that she applied to renew her passport at the Russian Consulate in Wellington back in June 2020. It’s now been a year and she has yet to receive a new travel document. Vlyzko’s current passport is set to expire in a month, meaning that as of this fall she will no longer be able to renew her visas or travel anywhere in the world (besides Russia).
Vlyzko wrote to the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry — they replied that her new passport was ready and waiting at their office, and would be sent to New Zealand “at the first opportunity.” They also explained that because Vlyzko applied for the renewal at the consulate in New Zealand, the Foreign Ministry could not, for example, give her new passport to her relatives in Russia.
According to Vlyzko, the consulate in New Zealand attributed the delay to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s protocols — passports can’t be sent by regular mail, they can only be transported by diplomatic couriers, who, due to the coronavirus pandemic, haven’t flown to New Zealand to deliver diplomatic mail since March 2020. “There’s a sense that the Foreign Ministry has protocols that they don’t want to change: for example, they don’t want to pay salaries to employees who will sit in quarantine for two weeks,” Vlyzkov speculated.
At the moment, travel to New Zealand remains largely restricted: only citizens and those with residency permits are allowed entry into the country, and they are all required to quarantine in a hotel for two weeks at their own expense.
The Russian Embassy in New Zealand told Meduza that even diplomatic passport holders are only allowed to enter the country on the condition that they undergo a 14-day quarantine in places of strict isolation. “The given circumstances made it impossible to deliver diplomatic mail along the route from Moscow to Wellington,” embassy spokesman Artyom Blashchanitsa wrote in his response to Meduza’s inquiry.
The embassy confirmed that this situation has led to the accumulation of “a certain number of Russian citizens” with expired passports, but didn’t specify how many people are facing this problem. The Russian Foreign Ministry later told Novaya Gazeta that there are around 700 Russian nationals in New Zealand without valid travel documents.
Maria Pod’s husband and son, who live with her in New Zealand, applied to renew their passports in February 2021. And just like Ekaterina Vlyzko, they still haven’t received their documents. Maria applied to renew her own passport in May, and is worried about what the delays will mean for her friends and family members, as well as for herself. “I have no complaints about the work of the consulate’s staff: everyone speaks politely, they try to help. But I would like to receive my passport all the same,” Maria said.
Interior designer Asya Filipchenko told Meduza that she applied for a new passport in July 2020. She’s been living in New Zealand without a valid passport since November of last year. “For eight months I’ve been living in foreign country illegally without the possibility of changing jobs, extending my visa, or even leaving the country,” she said.
“It seems to me that the Foreign Ministry decides everything and they are simply ignoring the problem and waiting for the country to be opened for free entry. This may only happen in a year, because everyone in New Zealand is waiting for the vaccine. At the moment, only eight percent of the population is vaccinated [against COVID-19], the process is very slow,” Ekaterina Vlyzko added.
According to Vlyzko, her friends from the UK, Brazil, and India have all managed to renew their passports without any issues and her Ukrainian friend received a new passport by mail from Australia. “That’s to say that only Russia has this problem,” she underscored.
The Russian Embassy in New Zealand told Meduza that in light of the current situation, they managed to reach an agreement with the local migration authorities on extending New Zealand visas for some Russian nationals, on the condition that the consulate provides proof of the status of their passport renewal applications.
“It’s worth keeping in mind that there are no hopeless situations and in case of urgent need, our citizens can take advantage of the possibility of free entry into the Russian Federation to obtain new passports,” the Russian Embassy said in its response, adding that Russian nationals without valid passports can enter the country “on the basis of a return certificate, which can be issued by the embassy’s consular department.” “We understand that this will entail certain material costs that will hurt the pockets of many of our compatriots, but objectively coming here also isn’t cheap,” the embassy told Meduza.
The Russian Embassy also said that given the gradual easing of quarantine restrictions, the issue of resuming diplomatic mail delivery to New Zealand “is being worked out.”
Translation by Eilish Hart