Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Albert and Marthie Buitenhuis's story as penned by Marthie

We came to New Zealand from South Africa at the end of October 2007 (my husband) and December 2007 (myself).  This was all the result of him being made redundant very suddenly and we knew that his chances of finding new employment there, at his age, were not good at all.  We had been planning to leave the country, but this event just hastened it all.

He initially came to see if we would be able to live here but he fell in love with Christchurch and within 3 weeks had a work visa and was employed.  Since then we have applied for several work visas with very little problems.  He was issued a work visa for 1 year at the end of 2007 because he only submitted a chest x-ray, then at the end of 2008 we submitted full medicals and again was given 1 year visas. The only time there were any queries regarding an application was at the end of 2009.  This was a request that our employer motivate why Albert and not a Kiwi or a resident.  We were issued with 2 year visas once our employer submitted this.  Medical clearance was done on the basis of the medical submitted in 2008.  At the end of 2011 we were given a 9 month visa, clearly intended to cover the expected time it would take to process the residency application as well as another in September 2012 for only 3 months. We were told it was an exception and from what I remember they said we didn't submit all the required information and it was issued so our residency application could be finalized.  The irony is that at the moment he weighs less than he had done when we first arrived in New Zealand and also less than in his first medical.

At end of 2011 we applied for new work visas and at the same time submitted our application for residency.  That is where the trouble started.  At first we were a bit perplexed about the extra requests for medical tests for him.  Early in this period I found information that we may have problems due to an old knee injury of his that was exacerbated by the February 2011 earthquake, but eventually when we received the decision of the first medical assessor we discovered the real issue was his weight.  This was also at the heart of the decision by the second medical assessor as well as the decline of a medical waiver.  The knee was there and mentioned, but the were real issue was his weight.

My husband has always been on the larger side.  He was also a smoker until August of 2010.  Once he stopped smoking his eating habits changed and he gained weight.  He did make some attempts to lose the weight via a crash diets (soup and a daily regimen of specific accompanying foods), this only made matters worse.  By the time we got the result of the first medical assessor he was already under the supervision of a dietician at Burwood Hospital and he was losing weight steadily and in healthy manner.  He also joined Weight-watchers and has to date lost more than 30 kg.

Our last visas (valid for 3 months) expired in January (2013) and we finally scraped the money together for a new application at the very last moment.  There were heaps of requirements regarding his job and contract.  At this time we have had appointed an immigration agent to assist us because everything became overwhelming. The agent advised us to withdraw the residency application because it was about to be declined and then to just concentrate on the visa application.  On 1 May Immigration New Zealand informed us that our work visas had been declined on the grounds of my husband's health.  With that our interim visas expired and we had to stop working immediately.

Since then we have been trying to submitted a Section 61 application. Together with a report from our current GP setting out my husband's current state of health, we thought that it would be enough to get us working again.  Our agent had submitted the first one and after 3 weeks it was returned with the application fee.  Based on the information I gathered on the internet regarding this type of application, it is hard to draw any other conclusion that the particular agent had it on his or her desk and returned it after 3 weeks.  We have an application for review submitted to the minister via our MP (Mr Brownlee's office) and our agent submitted another Section 61 application. This was also returned and they submitted another.

We didn't bother anyone nor did we ask anything from the system.  The knee evaluation and possible knee surgery was not on our request and we initially did not want to take it up.  Our GP at the time felt he qualified and referred him to the Burwood Hospital.  

Because we are not allowed to work we have virtually no income.  I have been selling off some smaller household items to keep us fed and we receive small amounts of money from Albert's sister in Auckland (who just went through a difficult time with their PR application as well).  There have also been one or two amounts from other people and our Church help where they can.  I managed to get bills paid last month but this month is becoming a major headache.  We are totally unable to meet our rental obligations and have already had two mediation meetings and is awaiting a date for the Tenancy Tribunal (Albert: We were asked to vacate the property in the mean time).  To top all this off, we live with the constant sword of deportation over our heads while trying to get a reconsideration of our visa application.

There are aspects of our dealings with INZ over the past 20 months that is very upsetting indeed.  Firstly, we had absolutely no idea that my husband's weight would be such a major issue.  It would have been extremely stupid to apply for residency in full knowledge of that.  In no previous visa application has there been any mention of his weight being an issue.  I feel that the outcome, based on his weight, was a foregone conclusion and the case officer should have brought this to our attention a lot sooner.  We would have withdrawn the application before spending an enormous amount of money on all those extra medical tests.  A lot more could have been done a lot sooner had we been informed properly and we could quite possibly have prevented the current issue completely.  The total cost of the residency application with the extra medical expenses coupled with the cost of three work visa applications within just over a year wiped out any savings we had.  Our last money went towards paying the agent.  In short, immigration costs have left us broke and now we are told to please go away.

The second thing that bothers me is that INZ insists an employer give you a permanent position with a contract.  Regardless of that our employer is now expected to replace this permanent employee every time his visa comes up for renewal.  It not only have an effect on the employer's staff continuity and recruitment costs, it discourages employers from employing immigrants, even in industries where there is a real problem with finding suitable staff.  When our visas were declined we were forced to break our contracts.  There was no warning and it was received with shock and horror by our manager and colleagues.  Suddenly the restaurant lost two staff members in a time where staff is very hard to come by.

The third aspect; it is wrong that a case officer can not only refuse to process an Section 61 application, but that it can be done without giving or recording (if reports are to be believed) any reasons for doing so.  It is not only unfair towards the applicant who suffers severe stress and anxiety; it also opens the door to any kind of abuse.  It means that if a case officer doesn't feel like doing it or there is a feeling that the office is too busy, the application can be refused without having to offer any explanation or suffering any consequences.  To put it bluntly, they are playing god over the lives of people who are vulnerable and in a very difficult situation.  

No-one just packs up and leave their home country without good reason, and if you were basically settled and made your intentions of staying permanently clear, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth to be told after 5+ years of working and paying tax, that you are not so important that New Zealand needs to treat you like a human being or show any form of humanity or compassion for you or what their decisions or actions mean to the applicant.

I tried to keep this short, but it is very hard to keep it concise and not get emotional over it.  In New Zealand we have jobs and lived fairly comfortably on not major incomes.  We had what we needed and did it with very little debt.  We feel personally safe and don't live in fear of crime or violence.  We are expected to return to the very situation we wanted to escape.  While South Africa is not seen as war zone or in a situation that calls for asylum, I doubt the actual situation there is unknown to the authorities here. No country loses so many citizens as South Africa has done for no good reason.  After being totally settled we are now expected to sell off what we have to return to a country that has swopped one discriminatory policy for another while the world is congratulating itself on dismantling the former policy while turning a blind eye to what is happening to there.

This is our story and most importantly we need help to not get deported on humanitarian grounds while we try and get this sorted.  And we want to be allowed to go back to work.  We committed no crime and did nothing wrong other than my husband being a foodie.  We also feel that this situation is treated very lightly while it should be abundantly clear to the officials involved with our case that the situation is urgent.  My husband has come a long way weight wise and should at least be given some credit.  As this drags on he is still (amazingly) sticking to his eating regimen and losing weight in a safe, healthy and sustainable manner.  It is not as if we are asking for the planet.  We are just asking to be allowed to stay and prove that he is doing all that is required to get his weight to a point that will satisfy them and continue with our lives.

Your support in the endeavour will be appreciated.  I apologize for the length of this letter but once I started typing I found it a bit hard to stop.

Thank you

Marthie Buitenhuis


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