13 Oct 2021

'I don't exist': Government silence hurts migrant parents

11:58 am on 13 October 2021

Migrant parents say they feel invisible after they were left out of an immigration announcement offering residency to thousands of others.

Dr Ana Popovska Stojanovska with her son Ivan Kostovski and her husband Toshe Stojanovski.

Dr Ana Popovska Stojanovska with her son Ivan Kostovski and her husband Toshe Stojanovski. Photo: Supplied

It has been five years since the immigration policy last invited parents of current resident and citizen migrants to settle in New Zealand - despite the government announcing a new programme two years ago.

The parent category was suspended in 2016 and once again in March 2020, at the same time as the skilled migrant visa process was halted.

But while skilled migrants will be among the 165,000 workers and their families eligible for the one-off residence visa announced a fortnight ago, the 5462 parents will not.

Macedonian Dr Ana Popovska Stojanovska said since then the two visa categories - skilled migrant and parent - had been included together in previous government announcements, it was upsetting to see no mention of parents from the immigration minister.

"Now they are dividing us," she said.

"That gives me the feeling that I don't exist. They don't notice me. This is an overwhelming feeling not only that I'm not wanted but I am air - that I disappear in the air for them. I have the feeling that everybody very institutionally would be very happy if I just passed away, I wouldn't be anybody's problem anymore."

She applauded the government's Covid-19 response, especially as North Macedonia has the third highest deaths pro-rata in the world, and needed to know whether she could settle.

"I wouldn't be alive if I had been in Macedonia," she said.

"There are almost 7000 deaths in Macedonia, and that country is two-and-a-half times smaller than New Zealand. I have diabetes, it's very mild, but I don't know my immunity. If I go back to Macedonia, I will die. I'm a doctor. I'm very aware of that."

Parents and their adult children say without any indication of when the residence policy will be decided, they feel ignored and sidelined, even those parents - like Ana Popovska Stojanovska - who were in New Zealand when the border closed, and therefore do not need managed isolation (MIQ) spaces.

An Official Information Act response she received last month showed that she and her husband, who arrived in March 2019, are two of 961 parents currently in New Zealand waiting to be invited to apply under the parent category.

The chequered history of that immigration programme included its suspension pending review in 2016 and its shelving last year after the government said immigration authorities had to focus on the pandemic.

The length of time that has elapsed has prompted families to bring cases to the appeals tribunal, including people here during the pandemic who have been deported and others who have been granted residence

Social and human implications

Gisborne forestry manager Megan Costello, whose parents are in Canada, said it had been a heartbreaking wait to have their expressions of interest (EOIs) considered.

"Every week I have to tell them that New Zealand has become anti-migrant and doesn't even do the right thing by the people here already in the country - so what hope is there for the people who've been waiting six years to have their EOIs reviewed?

"This whole situation is beyond belief. I can't go to Canada to visit them as there's no way I'd get back through MIQ. Both my parents have been double vaccinated for months. We are set up to allow them to quarantine with us at home. I can't tell you how many letters I've sent to Labour MPs without the courtesy of a response."

To add to their difficulties, a medical diagnosis led to her GP recommending the mother-of-two seriously consider reducing her work hours or leaving her job - but that might affect her parents being able to apply for residence.

"My hands are tied as I have to maintain the income level in order for my parents to be eligible and there's still no timeframe for when their application will even be considered."

Immigration advisor Brandon Han said that criteria - only people whose resident children earn more than $106,000 a year can apply under the criteria Labour and New Zealand First agreed on in 2019 - is hard for a lot of families.

The policy also had a 1000-a-year cap, which could mean a wait of another five years for a residence decision.

Labour's election manifesto last year, however, said it would revisit the policy and earnings threshold, which has been criticised as unfair and illogical.

"They have been struggling for quite a long while due to the high income threshold on the adult children's income," said Han.

"So they thought this can be the opportunity, the time, that they can skirt that unreasonable high income threshold. But once again, they feel so disappointed to hear that the policy is still not designed to include them."

In a statement, Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said: "No decisions have been taken on resuming selections for the parent category. A planned review of the category closer to when border travel is more available will look at barriers to access, including considering the income thresholds."

Professor Paul Spoonley, who researches migrant settlement and policy, said the government would need to turn its attention to parents already in New Zealand and those waiting overseas.

"We need to consider the social and human implications of migration policies, and one of those is family reunification. And a key part of that is considering the opportunity for migrants who have been given residence in New Zealand to bring their parents to this country. If the rest of the family are here, why shouldn't the parents come here?

"We've seen a lot of anxiety and disgruntlement about the government's approach to considering applications for residency. So some of that is answered but then we've got other categories and the parent category is one of those."

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