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Victoria Lewis. Photo / Supplied
A Taranaki woman says Immigration NZ’s handling of an application for a visa to allow her to travel overseas has soured what should have been the trip of a lifetime.
Victoria Lewis has not left New Zealand since she arrived with her parents as a baby in 1973.
She feared being deported to England if she went on a family holiday to Fiji after Immigration refused – until the 11th hour – to recognise she was a New Zealand resident.
Lewis was born in Kent, and was just 18 months old when she arrived in Aotearoa on her mother’s passport.
For her 50th birthday, her family planned a tropical holiday to celebrate.
Last November, she applied for New Zealand citizenship – to get a passport – but was told it would take about a year. So Lewis also sought a UK passport, which arrived in three weeks.
At about the same time, she asked Immigration what visa she would require to return to New Zealand. And that’s when the wheels fell off.
“They said because none of the evidence was before April 1974, that my case would now be closed.”
UK citizens and those from Canada and the Republic of Ireland who arrived in New Zealand before April 1974 and who did not receive residence permits at the time are still able to have their residence status confirmed. But they must provide evidence of being here prior to the cutoff date.
Lewis’ parents’ passports from the 1970s had been lost, and demands for other documents appeared absurd.
“Comments in their emails like that I need a rates demand and things like that, before 1974 that are in my name, is just absolutely ridiculous. I don’t know how they can’t understand that a baby doesn’t own property.”
After four months of wrangling, further “case cancellations”, hundreds of dollars paid in fees and the filing of a mountain of documents outlining her life in New Zealand, this week Lewis got a new case manager – three working days before she was due to fly out.
She said they told her a Confirmation of Visa would not allow her to return to New Zealand anyway, and she also needed a Permanent Resident Visa.
“I’m absolutely gobsmacked about it all, to tell you the truth. I have asked the question at least seven or eight times, what visa do I need to apply for? It was the subject of the first few calls that I had with Immigration and then they’ve obviously given me the wrong information.”
An apology – and an explanation
In a statement, Immigration NZ general manager Richard Owen apologised for the anguish Lewis had been put through.
“I acknowledge that this has been a process that has caused distress for Victoria Lewis and apologise for this. I am pleased to confirm that her Permanent Resident Visa has been approved, which will allow Lewis to travel in and out of New Zealand.”
He said Lewis’ application for a Confirmation of Visa was assessed on the same day it was received, 10 March.
Evidence was requested of her arrival in New Zealand prior to April 2, 1974 and Immigration was able to look at the information provided on April 18.
Owen said Immigration took a pragmatic approach to misplaced documents, but Lewis did not provide enough information up front – which had added time to the process.
“Once we noted that Ms Lewis was travelling we called her and explained a Confirmation of Visa would not be sufficient for travel purposes outside of New Zealand, as it does not have any travel conditions. To be able to depart and return to New Zealand as a resident we requested that Lewis apply for a Permanent Resident Visa.”
Owen offered no explanation as to why Lewis had been under the impression she only required a Confirmation of Visa or why her application had only been processed on 10 March.
He said the case was a timely reminder for migrants to have their travel documents in order before leaving the country to ensure they can return to New Zealand.
Lewis – who was left questioning her right to call herself a Kiwi through – was now looking forward to a well-earned rest in the sun with her family.