Archive for the ‘New Zealand Immigration Advice’ Category

Final Chapter of the Vermaak Family’s story

July 6, 2014

Back in July 2012 I wrote about the Vermaak family’s plight in facing deportation.

Since that first story there has been a huge amount of silent work behind the scenes, but now it’s time for an update as a final decision has been made on their fight to stay in NZ. This update includes a brief recap of the situation.

Facing deportation

March 2012 – Work Visa Declined
Cherie had been working for the Christchurch City Council for 4 years in a skilled occupation but ran into trouble when she needed a new Police Certificate to arrive from South Africa.

With her work visa due to expire she needed this certificate to put in an application to renew her visa. Unfortunately South African certificates can take several months to arrive and the immigration department (INZ) refused to wait for this.

The decision by INZ meant that Cherie found herself in a very difficult situation very quickly. Without a valid visa she lost her job and only source of income despite backing from her Council boss. Being unlawful in New Zealand she and her two children were subject to deportation. Zelda who was 16 year old at the time was also no longer had the right to go to school.

May 2012 – First Media Story
This is where Tammy and I became aware of the situation and decided to get involved. The family was now without a source of income and, as temporary visa holders were not entitled to any kind of benefit or financial assistance. Imagine having no way get or earn money, no way to ix your situation.

In an incredibly short space of time they were in a desperate situation, being forced to sell their possessions to buy food and facing eviction from their home. When we first met the family they did not know which way to turn – running out of possessions to sell and in real danger or being thrown out onto the streets.

Thankfully the media attention generated a wave of support for the family which held off their eviction for a short time. The New Zealand public were fantastic!

I went to work to help where I could. First jobs were talking to the Ministry of Education to get Zelda back into school and asking the immigration department to hold off deportation action to give the family a little more time.

June 2012 – Facing Eviction
The amazing support generated by the New Zealand public helped for a short while but soon ran out and the family found themselves facing eviction with no money and no way to get any.

A tight Squeeze

A tight Squeeze

We couldn’t allow them to become homeless so Tammy and I opened our own home to the family of three and their cats Fluffy and Peebles.

It was a tight squeeze with our family (which included four cats), but they stayed with us for four months until they were able to get back on their feet.

October 2013 – Ministerial Intervention
Cherie had a job offer but INZ were unwilling to grant a visa so Mike took the case to Hon Kate Wilkinson, then Associate Immigration Minister. The first great break-through for Cherie and her children came when the Minister agree to Mike’s request and overturned INZ’s decision, granting Cherie a visa to work.

This involved about 500 hours of pro-bono work for the family, but put them in a position where once again Cherie could work her way out of this terrible situation. Cherie and her children have had a harrowing two years and just needed that chance. Once Cherie was able to start work she became eligible for residence again and we worked with her to lodge an application.

The Final Update
It has not been plain sailing – there have been serious ups and downs for the family – but we are thrilled to report that this week Cherie, Kyle and Zelda were granted New Zealand Residence. This means they no longer need to fear deportation and can finally have hope and security for the future.

Cherie and Mike

Cherie’s Request
Cherie has asked us to update all of the people whose support and generosity made such a difference to this family during such a difficult time.

Cherie, Kyle and Zelda wanted to thank the hundreds of people both locally and from around the world who were there for them in so many different ways. The family is now looking forward making long term plans for their new life in Christchurch New Zealand.

Tammy and I are catching up with Cherie next week for a celebratory curry :o).

I am really delighted with this result. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and this is why migrant advocates are so badly needed – to give a helping hand at the right time.

Mike Bell
Migrant advocate | Licensed Immigration Adviser


News stories

This story has been followed through the media, here are a number of the news stories written.

 

 

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Fighting an unjust deportation

September 16, 2012

Cherie Vermaak - copyright Dean Kozniac, Fairfax Media

(Click for enlargement)

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.

The situation

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.

Mike, Cherie and Tammy - copyright Dean Kozniac, Fairfax Media

(Click for enlargement)

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.

News stories

This story has been followed through the media, here are a number of the news stories written.

Just a little more time please

July 11, 2012

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.

Making a difference
Over the past 7 years as move2nz, Tammy and I have been able to give help in supporting people – for example our recent work with Charmain Timmons.

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.

Immigration help
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.

So move2nz (offering family support) and New Zealand Immigration & Settlement Services (providing immigration advice on a pro-bono basis) swung into action.

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).

News stories:

Professional, Ethical and Not-For-Profit

June 19, 2012

Press Release: Launching New Zealand Immigration & Settlement Services Ltd.

Move2NZ’s Mike Bell has set up a new business for skilled migrants and employers working on the Christchurch rebuild.

Mike and wife Tammy have already sealed an international reputation for achieving better outcomes for migrants, their employers and New Zealand. Now a licensed immigration advisor Mike is creating something entirely new to increase and protect the billions of dollars skilled migration add to the New Zealand economy every year.

New Zealand Immigration & Settlement Services Ltd (www.newzealandimmigration.org.nz) is set to revolutionise the immigration industry as the first Not-For-Profit immigration business. Offering professional services which will empower migrants and support New Zealand employers this business will plough 100% net profits back into facilities supporting New Kiwis.

Work on the Christchurch rebuild will require an estimated 20,000 skilled workers over the next decade. Mike strongly believes in a preference to employ Kiwis workers, but aims to support employers who will need to secure overseas expertise in shortage areas such as engineering, I.T. and of course medicine.

“Hanging on to key staff attracted here is vital to support not only the rebuild but to meet the needs of existing companies and services.” Says Mike Bell. “At the moment employers are left to their own devices and are struggling to retain workers they have invested time and money into attracting.”

“Skilled migrants bring rare skills, experience, new ideas and add billions of dollars to our economy to grow business and employment in New Zealand. Left to sink or swim on their own, many skilled migrants struggle to settle and as a result nearly a quarter leave – that’s $2 billion walking out of our economy every year.”

Through 2006 – 2009 Mike and Tammy ran a hugely successful Migrant Centre offering free information and support to over 10,000 people at no cost to the taxpayer.

They now intend to re-open this service using profits from providing high quality immigration services to serve Christchurch through these difficult times.

www.newzealandimmigration.org.nz – revolutionising the immigration industry.

ENDS