Migrants fear visas will be declined if they ask for help

Corazon Miller
Source: 1News

The ambiguity of Immigration New Zealand's standard of health required to live, study, or work in the country is seeing some migrants suffer alone with potentially life-threatening mental and physical illnesses.

Many are too scared to ask for help, for fear their visas will get declined.

Auckland-based international student Varsha Ravi says she's heard countless "heart-breaking" stories from fellow students who despite struggling with anxiety and depression did not seek counselling because of the fear around their status here.

Currently, Immigration New Zealand requires evidence of a person's acceptable standard of health; that they are unlikely to be a danger to public health; to be a burden on public health services, and be fit for the purpose of entry to New Zealand.

They're requirements advocates within the migrant community say are vague and open to individual interpretation.

Ravi's written a letter, on behalf of migrants, to the Immigration Minister, Kris Faafoi. They are calling for greater clarity around what exactly the "acceptable standard of health" is and for greater support for international students.

She says the uncertainty of the pandemic and when New Zealand's borders will open again is taking a huge toll on the mental health of many migrants. Her fear is if nothing changes the consequences could be fatal.

Kate Li is a final year medical student from China who has been living here on an international student visa for ten years. This year, as New Zealand's borders remained closed to all but citizens, she was faced with a difficult dilemma around her future here.

Li misses her family in China, but fears she can not come back if she leaves - even though she'll soon fill a critical health-care role as a doctor in Rotorua.

"[If I leave], I may not be able to start working as a doctor," she says. "I don't want to risk not being able to finish my medical degree."

This uncertain future remains tough to cope with. "I cry a lot when I Skype my mum, because I miss her so much."

Immigration lawyer Pooja Sundar is aware of a number of cases of migrants, who like Li are desperate to stay in New Zealand.

She says this obligation to disclose their health status as part of the immigration process was a major cause of concern for many - in some cases families have even delayed getting a diagnosis for their child's health issues.

"You wouldn't want anyone to be in a situation where they stop getting the help they need, or stop getting diagnosed."

She says it is time for Immigration New Zealand to review what it deemed to be an "acceptable standard of health".

The Irving family is originally from South Africa - they know all too well the cost of being upfront about their child's condition. Harry and Nikole Irving came to New Zealand on an essential skills visa and hoped to make a life for themselves here. But their son Matthew's hearing loss saw his visa declined.

They will now be moving to Canada in February next year.

Immigration New Zealand general manager border and visa operations, Nicola Hogg, says the department did plan to review the acceptable standard of health requirements but Covid-19 related work had taken priority over the past 18 months.

"Immigration New Zealand understands that waiting for a visa application to be decided may create uncertainty for applicants and their whanau.

"We encourage people to seek out appropriate care and support... our staff do provide useful information on where visa applicants and migrants can seek help, should they show any sign of mental health issues."