On 12th May this year I noticed the headline ‘Family lives in fear of deportation‘ and read about Cherie Vermaak and her children facing deportation from New Zealand. I immediately offered my help and have recently had news, but as background hereis where is all started:
A South African family that has been “fighting an immigration battle for the past five years” is now unlawfully living in Christchurch and says imminent deportation is more frightening than sleeping on the streets.
The article went on to say that:
She could not afford to pay rent next week and had been slowly selling “everything I own” to feed her two teenage children, Kyle, 19 and Zelda, 16.
Despite “pleading” for help from agencies, the family was not eligible for Government support because they did not have residency, nor could they temporarily sleep in their car because that had also been sold.
This was someone who clearly needed help – we met for the first time on May 16th and, as soon as Tammy and I found out the circumstances of the case, we offered our help. I’d like to thank The Press for running the story on Cherie’s situation, without this we would never had known anything about it.
Our focus is on fairness and transparency in immigration. No matter how good information you give out is sometimes people fall between the cracks and end up in terrible situations. Rather than standing around ‘tut-tutting’ we take action to make a positive difference.
Now as a licensed immigration adviser it was great to be able to offer Cherie direct help with her immigration problems, something we previously had to rely on others for with varying degrees of success. I was pretty disgusted to find that she had been working with an adviser since she arrived in NZ, but they had walked away when the family ran out of money.
The first step was looking after the family: the Press ran a brilliant story and offers of help flooded in. Kiwis are amazingly generous when they realise a hard-working mum just needs a fair-go and this help made a huge difference.
With immediate fears of being turned onto the street taken care of we contacted the Ministry of Education to get Zelda back into school.
Sorting out the immigration situation
I collected a foot-high pile of papers and spent hours working out what had happened. It was great to be able to help with this and I soon worked out the problem.
Over the years working for the council Cherie had only ever been offered a 12 month contract. Because of this she could only get a 12 month visa and never move to the safety of residence. She was in the process of applying for yet another Work Visa when she was offered a permanent contract after helping through the devastation of the Canterbury earthquakes. Finally she could apply for residency and be safe.
Unfortunately there was one problem: her police clearance certificate from South Africa didn’t turn up in time. Her application to renew her Work Visa was declined so she lost her job – no visa = no work = no money.
As we’ve been saying on move2nz for years, migrants on temporary visas are vulnerable and this case proved that very well. Over time the family’s savings got used up and they sold off all of their possessions. As temporary migrants they were not entitled to any benefit or government help meaning eventually they would become destitute and have to be deported unless Cherie could get another visa.
You’ve got six weeks
I spoke to Cherie’s immigration case-officer to explain the situation, wrote a couple of letters and explained just how useful Cherie as a skilled worker was. After some good discussion the answer back from INZ: Cherie had six weeks for Cherie to find a skilled job that matched her qualifications and experience.
This was a very slim chance for the family knowing how long it can take to get a job offer and we needed to move fast. I re-wrote Cherie’s already good CV and she worked night and day contacting employers about potential jobs. Meanwhile the media continued to run stories (see below).
The six weeks went very quickly and most of the employers Cherie had applied to were only just finishing advertising, meaning they wouldn’t interview for days or weeks. Things started to look pretty serious for the family as their deadline to get out of New Zealand loomed.
In the next installment of this story I’ll tell you what happened next ;o).
- 29/06/12 – S African family’s deportation looms;
- 18/06/12 – Immigrants get help adapting to Christchurch (video);
- 15/06/12 – Two weeks till deportation for S African family;
- 12/05/12 – Hard wait for South African family in ‘limbo’;
- 24/05/12 – South African family offered help;
- 23/05/12 – South African family gets last chance for immigration (video);
- 12/05/12 – Family lives in fear of deportation.