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'Punished for studying' - many miss out on new residents visa

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.

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.

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.

Read the full story at RNZ

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