17 Jan 2019

Teacher fears life on solo parent benefit in immigration wait

6:55 am on 17 January 2019

A widowed teacher with an autistic son is among those pleading for an answer on whether their parents will be allowed to join them under a shelved immigration programme.

Zoe Jiang with her six-year-old son Zac.

Zoe Jiang with her six-year-old son Zac. Photo: Supplied

Zoe Jiang, who lives in Wellington, said she does not want to be forced onto benefits to look after her six-year-old boy Zac, while her parents are locked out of helping her.

Ms Jiang's husband Steve Li died of a brain tumour when their son was a baby, after being diagnosed when she was pregnant.

Her son has an intellectual disability, with severe language development delays and his behavioural difficulties have caused problems at his after-school club.

If that continued, she said, she may be asked to take him home and have to give up work as a primary school teacher.

However, her parents could look after him - if applications for parent residence visas were re-opened.

"They could take care of Zac and I could go out and work, and also mentally, I would have someone to talk to when I come back home.

"I love my job and I have been working my whole life and I don't see myself to be a stay-at-home mum living on benefits."

She also worried that when Zac is older, she would have to leave him to look after her parents as they age in China, as he may not be able to adjust to a new country.

While the parents of foreign-born residents and citizens can visit their adult children, they have not been able to apply for residence under the parent category since 2016.

Former Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said he ordered the two-year moratorium to clear the backlog of applications in the pipeline and review the category.

But he said there has been no explanation from his successor, Iain Lees-Galloway, about why there is an ongoing hold-up.

"That review was completed in January or February [last year] and still there have been no changes," he said.

"But it does appear there's still some parent category applications in the pipeline, they should absolutely have been cleared through by now.

"And certainly the category could have been re-opened under new criteria if necessary to manage demand."

Mr Lees-Galloway said officers reviewed the category and a decision was coming.

"I received advice towards the end of last year, that's something that still needs to go before Cabinet," he said. "I anticipate that we'll be making a decision around that in the first half of this year."

The Association for Migration and Investment said it understood those who were no longer eligible once new criteria were announced would have their visa fees refunded.

Maureen and Derek Waller sold up in England to join their daughter Fiona and their two grandchildren.

They said they were assured by their then immigration adviser to go ahead with their move despite the moratorium.

They have been living in Renwick near Blenheim for almost three years and are living from one visitor's visa to the next as they wait to find out the government's decision.

Medical assessments and lawyer fees have cost them about $12,000 in the last year alone.

"We're getting to the end of our tether, we don't know where to turn next," Mr Waller said.

"The gates for this visa have not been re-opened and we know very well that when it does re-open there's a huge backlog so even if it opened [now] it would probably be two years before they got down to us."