Sagaa Malua has seen it all and it breaks her heart every time.
As coordinator of the Tuvalu Community Trust, she sees how overstayers are struggling – and the impact this has on the wider community.
No one knows how many in her community are undocumented – but there could be as many as 10 per cent of Tuvalu’s 5000 people here.
Sagaa says its just the Tuvaluan way – it's family and community first and everyone looks after each other – but the pressure is often debilitating, especially as Covid-19 has hit families in the pocket.
“The struggle our families go through it’s not just the undocumented, even our Tuvaluan families around here when there is opportunities for our children to help out they have to drop school and go to work because the family needs support,” she says.
One overstayer, Mele, wept when she told 1News how her niece, who is a New Zealand resident, dropped out of medical school so she could get a job to pay her aunt’s medical bills.
Her nephew is still paying for her late husband’s hospital bills – it's one of the many barriers that overstayers face.
Unitec researchers have just released the first study of its kind, “Hidden Gems – Lived Experiences of Tuvaluan Hope Seekers and Their Families in Aotearoa New Zealand”.
Co-author David Kenkel said the study was important “because it seemed like there was a real injustice happening and the more we found out the more unjust it appeared to be”.
The impact on children was tough to see he said – from 2006 any child born here to overstayers is not entitled to New Zealand citizenship or permanent residence.
This means they aren’t eligible for Plunket and Child Health Services and tertiary education unrealistic given they would have to pay full international fees to go essentially driving them towards low paid work.
Co-author Dr Hoa Thi Nguyen says the overstayers stories were moving and deeply inspiring.
"Despite being denied tertiary education and the right to work they are still like really hardworking loving and caring human beings they are not bitter they are still grateful for the opportunity to be here in New Zealand”.
Both authors say many “hope seekers” fill a much needed labour shortage but its mostly under the table and some are exploited.
The report points to programmes in the US that appears to effective – one is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which allows young undocumented people to go through tertiary study and provides a pathway to residence.
The other, Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM), which aims to grant a right to work status and also looks at granting full citizenship.
There is no clear pathway in New Zealand immigration policy.
Nguyen says it’s a loss for New Zealand to not give them a chance to contribute formally to the economy.
“Many of the children were born and raised in New Zealand. New Zealand is the only world that they know, it would be inhumane to separate them and send the parents back,” she said.
Its estimated there are between 10-14,000 overstayers in New Zealand.