7 Oct 2021

Migrant students feel cheated over residence visa decision

8:40 pm on 7 October 2021

People who missed out on one of the 165,000 residence visas are cursing their bad luck at not being on the right visa on the right day.

Visa and passport to  approved stamped on a document top view in Immigration

Photo: 123RF

Students finishing PhDs and with highly paid job offers say they feel punished for studying - as even a low-skilled job would have qualified many of them for the one-off permanent residence announced last week.

Among those also feeling aggrieved are those still working for New Zealand companies from overseas - and with valid visas - but who are excluded from the immigration announcement's largesse because they could not be in the country due to border restrictions.

A man who has worked in New Zealand for a decade is among those excluded from the one-off residence visas, missing out by four days.

Vijay Bans' work visa expired the weekend before the government announced that anyone eligible on 30 September would be able to settle permanently.

His wife is just finishing a healthcare course and is working in an aged care facility - but her student visa does not qualify them for residence.

The father-of-two from Hamilton said he is in shock that after being in the country for 11 years, their family has missed out.

"We have no medical history, no police history, everything is fine, we are a normal family," he said. "It's totally unfair, we are in shock people in New Zealand for the last three years are eligible, and people like me, who have been working in this country for more than one decade, and they're getting nothing."

It was all the more galling as he won a tribunal appeal last year that Immigration New Zealand (INZ) had incorrectly assessed his skilled migrant residence application.

But by the time an appeals tribunal overturned the decision and sent it back to INZ, he had been made redundant.

Vijay Bans with his wife Nidhi Arora and children Nevyn and Raynav Bans

Vijay Bans with his wife, Nidhi Arora, and children Nevyn and Raynav Bans. Photo: Supplied

Lishuang Qi worked in hospitality in the South Island for four years, but went back to college last November to become an early education teacher.

She feels cheated that her decision to invest in retraining in a skill shortage field has cost her a fast track path to residence.

"I spent all the tuition fees here during the pandemic, and now I've been punished," said Qi. "If I had just carried on my job, working as a receptionist or maybe I can just be a dishwasher somewhere in a restaurant, I would have been granted residency.

"I felt so bad when I saw the announcement. There are a lot of us who are screaming for justice or fairness. I chose to study further because I can be an early childhood teacher which is always on a shortage list. It has done me no good now, it's just so unfair."

Many people expressed frustration at the lack of detail on criteria and timeframes for obtaining residence, if they are not eligible for the one-off visa.

Juliana Reu Junqueira is finishing her PhD specialising in flood risk management, with a Waikato University scholarship, and her husband submitted an expression of interest for skilled migrant residence (SMC) last March as an architectural technician.

As a 'partner of a student' visa, he is not among the 165,000 people who will be settled permanently by the end of next year. His wife has not yet started a new job as an environmental planner - and students are not eligible for the one-off visa student visa.

"We're really really frustrated and disappointed, working so hard and we've done everything right," she said.

"My husband has been working in a high-skill occupation, earning more than $27 per hour, and we submitted our expression of interest and we've been waiting patiently since March last year.

"Unfortunately I think New Zealand may lose a lot of good people. We do love New Zealand but we will need to consider other options if there is no way to get residency here.

"If you read the immigration website, there are several advantages of doing the PhD here - one of them was when you finish your PhD, you didn't even need to have a job offer in order to apply for residence as long as you had enough points, so it's a really good way to get residency. But suddenly now it's not anymore."

Juliana Reu Junqueira, her husband Gilberto, sons Pedro, 9, and Mateus, 6

Juliana Reu Junqueira, her husband Gilberto, sons Pedro, 9, and Mateus, 6. Photo: Supplied

Others were unlucky with the date of the government's decision, including one man who changed from a work to a student visa days before the announcement.

Immigration adviser Brandon Han said his clients included masters degree students who had previously been on work visas or would soon have graduated onto post-study work visas. "Are they supposed to be penalised for their learning, or their further learning? It's not logical," he said.

Graduates stuck overseas

The estimated 5000 post-study work visa holders stuck overseas because of the border restrictions found they would not qualify either.

"Are we trashing their tertiary qualifications, which were gained in New Zealand, simply because they took an unfortunate holiday overseas last summer?" said Han.

"In contrast, their former classmates are celebrating for this early Christmas gift. These work visa holders are formally trained graduates who completed their tertiary education after they spent years in New Zealand, and they are now suffering discriminatory treatment.

"Under the new resident visa policy, they missed out on this cake, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to settle in New Zealand with their valuable knowledge."

Sonu Pival is one of those locked out of the residence visa by the border, although he was not on holiday. He finished his masters in Electrical and Electronic Engineering in 2018 in Auckland and had been working in managed isolation facilities until his parents fell seriously ill with Covid-19 in India in December.

He rushed home to Mumbai - but could not get back to New Zealand afterwards.

"Because of this pandemic everything went upside down," he said. "There is not any clear decision, especially on the migrants who are stuck offshore. So we want the government to at least look after us and take some decisions, because it's already been more than 18 months."

They want the one-off residence visa criteria to be broadened, but if not they would like their temporary visas extended when the borders reopen.

Some graduates are holding a protest outside the New Zealand embassy in Delhi next month.

As the clock runs down on their visas, they remain excluded from an earlier government border exemption for work visa holders who had been caught on the wrong side of the border.

Some are still working remotely for New Zealand companies - paying taxes here and still on valid visas.

Wenjuan Zhang travelled to Shanghai in July after his father suffered a cerebral haemorrhage. His post-study work visa is valid for another 16 months but he cannot return - and even if he could, he will not be eligible for the one-off residence visa.

He applied for humanitarian border exemptions when his father recovered, to return to his partner and job in New Zealand.

"I was informed that my dad's life was at risk and I made the decision to travel to China to support his recovery," he said. "This decision was not taken lightly under the given circumstances but also in hope of a compassionate support of the New Zealand immigration office to support my return.

"I have worked for New Zealand companies with no disruption from February 2020, even working right now remotely, earning more than $27 per hour. Yet I am ineligible to apply for it as I am physically offshore."

He has started a petition, calling for the residence criteria to be reconsidered. Another petition has attracted about 20,000 signatures since Thursday's announcement.

Explore other visa options - Faafoi

Immigration minister Kris Faafoi said in a statement people who are not eligible for the new residence pathway will need to explore other visa options if they want to stay in New Zealand permanently, such as SMC.

"They can also apply for the new two-year Essential Skills visa if they're paid below the median wage," he said,

"The government is not currently intending to extend post-study work visas for those based overseas. This is in line with the approach we've taken with other temporary visas where plans were disrupted by Covid-19, as these people only ever intended to remain in New Zealand temporarily and circumstances may have changed by the time borders reopen.

"People who have gained valuable qualifications from study in New Zealand, and have been gaining useful work experience while offshore, can apply for work visas when the borders reopen if they have skills New Zealand needs."

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