A pregnant New Zealand woman with a medical condition that could put her and her unborn child at risk is stranded in the United States and uninsured, after being declined an emergency MIQ spot six times.
The window for her to fly home is fast closing as her pregnancy advances.
Bergen Graham was living with her husband Oscar in his home country of El Salvador when she became pregnant in February.
Straight away he applied for a New Zealand visa, but it was June by the time it was approved, and they could not get MIQ spots through the voucher system.
To complicate things, Bergen’s pregnancy is deemed high risk. Three separate specialists have provided letters confirming that and say, because of a blood condition, she requires medication and specialist monitoring.
The couple are in the United States now because Bergen’s visa for El Salvador was about to expire, forcing her to start the journey home without guaranteed MIQ.
Graham says they arrived in Los Angeles and expected to only be there four days before returning to New Zealand.
“Finding out that I couldn’t go back was just awful and the worst thing of all is not knowing when we can potentially go back. We don’t know how long we’re going to be in Los Angeles for which means we haven’t been able to sort out long-term accommodation, car rentals, appointments.
“Every day, for a while there, I thought ‘OK, tonight we’ll be on the plane and go back, it’ll be OK’ and every day we couldn’t. So every day we were trying to find new accommodation, whilst being pregnant, in a city we’re not familiar with, with a healthcare system we’re not familiar with – it’s been really stressful for us.”
With no insurance, Graham and her partner are facing a bill of at least $20,000 to have their baby in the US, and that’s if things go smoothly.
“If there’s complications, it could be up to $100,000.”
Graham has sought medical letters and made six applications to get a spot in MIQ and every one has been rejected.
“I think it’s dreadful. If I can’t go back to New Zealand, then who can? They’re sort of saying to me that it needs to be an emergency.”
She says that, if things reach an emergency point for her, it will be far too late to get on a flight and return to the country.
“Not being able to talk to a person and getting these really general responses, which I’ve had every single time, that say ‘we don’t believe there is a significant risk to your health, therefore we’re denying your application’ is the most frustrating thing.”
That runs counter to a letter she received from a Los Angeles doctor to support her application which states: “It goes without saying that my recommendations are clearly stated; that she and her child are at serious risk from a medical perspective.”
Graham says it’s frightening to her that those words are being ignored.
“My country that’s supposed to be responsible for me, and that I belong to, doesn’t seem to care, doesn’t seem to think that’s significant enough to let us in.”
She has now passed 28 weeks in her pregnancy and, to fly at this point, she needs medical clearance.
“As long as everything goes smoothly from here on, I can fly up to 36 weeks.”
A lot of people ask Graham why she went to El Salvador during a pandemic. She explains that they hadn’t met the visa requirements for him to be able to come to New Zealand.
‘We knew straight away that I wasn’t going to sit in New Zealand and not see my husband for that length of time.”
The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment, which decides on the applications, says there is no guarantee a person who fits within these categories will receive an emergency allocation, as it depends on the number of applicants and available cases. It says, in Bergen Graham’s case, some of her applications were too far out from her travel time and others were declined based on the evidence she provided.
MBIE says it provided clear advice on the information and that an independent medical professional must state her condition requires urgent travel to New Zealand.
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