As our regular members will know, move2nz is a lot more than just move2nz.com and through our history we have fought many times to ensure migrants acting in good faith are given a fair go by the immigration system.
Through move2nz we have been working to highlight the kind of risks faced by migrants on temporary visas while in New Zealand to help ensure people are prepared and protected against what can be serious risks.
Despite our best efforts sometimes people can quickly find themselves in terrible situations and this is exactly what happened to the Vermaak family from South Africa.
A deportation nightmare
On 12th May 2012 we first found out about a terrible situation, reading in the Christchurch Press newspaper. A family – Cherie and children aged 16 and 19 – were in desperate fear of being deported and having to move in to a garage as they were losing their home.
We immediately contacted to offer support as we have with many others in the past and found they were long-standing members of move2nz. What was brilliant this time was that we were also able to review the immigration decision being made because Mike is now a licensed immigration adviser.
Cherie had been working in New Zealand for four years in an important and skilled job. She tried to renew her work visa in March and the immigration department (INZ) first confirmed they had everything they needed, but just two days before her visa was due to expire INZ insisted she produce a police clearance certificate from South Africa.
These certificates take months to obtain and Cherie’s licensed immigration adviser had failed to remind her to get one. INZ refused to accept a declaration that Cherie had applied for the certificate which was strange as they had let her do so before, Cherie had not been back to SA since 2007 and her previous certificates had been completely clean.
This decision not to allow a declaration created a situation where two days later Cherie found herself with no visa, unlawful in New Zealand and subject to deportation. Of course this also meant that Cherie immediately lost her job as she no longer had the legal right to work in NZ. Cherie’s 16 year old daughter also no longer had the right to go to school and was forced to stay home half-way through her year 12 studies.
The family was now without a source of income and, as temporary visa holders, were not entitled to financial assistance. When the money ran out they started selling furniture to buy food.
When Cherie needed them most I am ashamed to say that her immigration adviser of four years refused to help because Cherie could not afford to pay the fees. On her own Cherie appealed the decision and then put in another visa application as she still had a full-time offer of skilled work. Both actions were declined.
By mid May the family were in serious trouble being kicked out of their home and soon to be kicked out of New Zealand.
Saving this situation
Mike put his Licensed Immigration Adviser hat on and waded through a foot-high pile of papers to find out what had happened. I worked with the Ministry of Education to successfully get Cherie’s daughter back to school.
The Press newspaper ran a story about the Vermaak family and the Christchurch community responded with incredible generosity offering food, help with immigration costs and help with rent.
It very quickly became clear to Mike reading this file that a mistake was being made by INZ and he negotiated for time to enable Cherie, a skilled worker, to find another job. INZ offered 6 weeks and said Cherie would have to leave if she did not have a job by this time.
Bizarrely, after having made a decision which effectively lost Cherie her job, INZ reversed it and agreed she could now enter a declaration relating to her police certificate if she found another job. Mike argued successfully for an extra month to give the 17 employers Cherie had applied to time to evaluate her application, but if Cherie did not have a job offer by 30th July she would have to leave New Zealand.
A chance to stay
Our own new immigration business was opening an office on August 13th and we were in the process of advertising for an Office Manager. Cherie applied for the job and, despite a month of advertising, was the only applicant with the skills we needed so we suddenly found ourselves able to offer her employment. This complicated things a bit but we submitted a Work Visa application which met every requirement on 23rd July.
The weeks ticked by with no news until 29th August when Mike received a letter from INZ. Cherie’s application was again declined and she had to leave New Zealand immediately or be deported.
We were absolutely gutted, especially as no reason for declining was given. As we covered back in March INZ directs staff not to record the reasons for decisions on cases like this. Cherie was left with no right of appeal waiting for a deportation order to be issued which would send her and her children back to South Africa with nothing. Potentially living on the streets in South Africa was suddenly a terrifying but very real possibility.
A final roll of the dice
Mike immediately wrote a letter to the Associate Immigration Minister Kate Wilkinson asking if she would review this decision.
The minister can simply refuse to intervene and so Mike put together 8 pages of reasons why this situation was unfair to slow the deportation.
In the meantime Mike began pulling together hundreds of pages of documented proof to back this request up. It was our only chance and absolutely final hope. If the minister refused to look at the case it was all over.
On 8th September the Vermaak family were finally forced out of their home.
We couldn’t see them living on the streets and so offered space in our own home, turning move2nz’s office into a room that Cherie and her children could share. This was not ideal but the only option we had – Mike and I couldn’t have lived with ourselves if we didn’t do everything in our power to support this family.
Of course this wasn’t the first time we have been in this position – long term members will remember we opened our home to the Smith family of 4 back in June 2009, supporting them for 6 months while their appeal was heard, giving them the chance to gain residency and get back on their feet which they have successfully done.
The Ministers decision – Thursday 13th September
On Thursday the decision came. This was much quicker than we had expected and Mike was only half-way through getting the documented proof ready. After putting over 400 hours of pro-bono work into this we thought this might be the end.
What we were delighted to read was that Kate Wilkinson had overturned the INZ’s decision, granting each of the Vermaaks a 12 month visa to sort out their situation.
This is all they ever needed and we are so happy for this family. They will be staying with us for the time being, but we are now looking forward to watching them get back on their feet. As soon as Cherie has her visa she will be starting work as our Office Manager and helping us set up the New Zealand Immigration & Settlement Services office to be the best immigration consultancy in New Zealand.
From a personal view this decision also means that Mike’s 100% success rate on applications and appeals is reinstated and is a fantastic result for move2nz which will continue to help supporting this family.
I hope you will join with us in wishing this brave family the very best for the future.
A few words from Mike
New Zealand’s immigration system is built to be open, fair and help attract great people who have a lot to offer this country, but sometimes migrants who are acting in good faith fall between the cracks. In cases like this the Associate Minister of Immigration Kate Wilkinson is the only ‘safety net’ to ensure decisions being made are fair and in New Zealand’s best interests.
Ms Vermaak’s case is a perfect example where decisions made by other people combined to create a situation where, though no fault of her own, a valued worker in an important job was suddenly catapulted along with her children into a nightmare of losing her job, her home and everything she had worked for years to build.
In situations like this the Associate Minister acts as a vital safety net to ensure fair and just decisions are made, upholding the integrity of what is an excellent immigration system and protecting New Zealand’s international reputation.
On receiving our cry for help Kate Wilkinson moved swiftly to get to the bottom of what had happened, recognise the terrible mistake being made, save New Zealand many thousands of dollars and end a nightmare which was likely to end with the family being returned with nothing to live on the violent streets of South Africa.
I have already written to express my appreciation and thanks for the help on this case: a big win for New Zealand. I would also like to express our thanks to The Press who alerted us to this situation and have faithfully followed this story all of the way through and also move2nz members who supported our facebook campaign.
This story has been followed through the media, here are a number of the news stories written.
- 12/05/12 – Family lives in fear of deportation.
- 23/05/12 – South African family gets last chance for immigration (video);
- 23/05/12 – Hard wait for South African family in ‘limbo’;
- 24/05/12 – South African family offered help;
- 15/06/12 – Two weeks till deportation for S African family;
- 18/06/12 – Immigrants get help adapting to Christchurch (video);
- 29/06/12 – S African family’s deportation looms;
- 04/07/12 – Deadline extension relief for family;
- 15/08/12 – Victory nigh in South African’s battle to stay;
- 11/09/12 – Eviction blow adds to visa woe;
- 12/09/12 – Boss backs woman facing deportation;
- 15/09/12 – South African family relieved as deportation revoked.