Visa discrimination

It felt like Groundhog Day. I was astounded watching a TV One news item about New Zealand Immigration refusing visas to two young Ethiopians who were to be sponsored here by a group of retired professionals. It was two years (almost to the day) that I’d written a very emotional and indignant piece about the humiliation and disappointment my family had experienced when we wanted to host relatives from Egypt for a special holiday.

Like the young Ethiopian men, they were considered not “bona fide.” So in two years nothing seems to have improved in the attitude of New Zealand Immigration to Africans wanting to visit our country.

A group of retired New Zealand professionals (including no less than a Justice of the Peace and a Queen’s Service Medal recipient)  met tour operators, Abenezer Mekonnen and Abreham Mekonnen, while visiting Ethiopia last year. They were so impressed by the professionalism and empathy of the pair, they wanted to return their hospitality by inviting them on a fully sponsored holiday to New Zealand.

But, like our very conservative, middle-aged Egyptian “rellies” their visa applications were declined by Immigration New Zealand. They were also deemed to be “non bona fide.”

The piece I wrote back then never saw the light of day – probably just as well as I was very irate and emotional. I was advised not to submit it for publication as it “might get up the noses of Immigration New Zealand”. Well, I know how bewildered we were by INZ’s rejection and seeing this still happening two years on I don’t really care about sensitivity. So much work went into that initial application we were too disheartened to attempt it again.

Back in February 2018, I wrote how we’d organised flights, and family functions were planned along with endless sightseeing tours. My husband and his four brothers have been well established here since the 1970s and 80s. And they’re getting more nostalgic as they age. They love talking about their idyllic childhood in Egypt and growing up with a whole troop of cousins. They were looking forward to bringing three of these cousins to show New Zealand and our offspring off.

And from our side, the sponsoring family, we’re a pretty mainstream bunch. There’s probably been a few speeding fines over the years, but our names have never figured in the court news. I’m an Otago-born Kiwi who brought my Egyptian husband from Cairo to Dunedin with me in 1978 and then by the end of the 80s, his parents and family had all settled here. The brothers are all moderate Muslims who enjoy the Kiwi lifestyle.

Fourteen grandchildren have been born here and we now have a blossoming third generation. Some of the kids have chosen to follow Islam and learn Arabic, while others are just your typical Kiwi kids.

But, our well-thought out plans fell completely flat with the unexpected outcome. Instead of phoning with last minute info (“make sure you don’t bring mangoes with you – no matter how much we miss them”) we had to tell all three that their applications had been rejected.

We’d done everything to plan and used an experienced immigration consultant. The applications went from Egypt through to Dubai and then to New Zealand Immigration’s Indian office for that final decision.

This trio of relatives are in their late 50s/early 60s and merely wanted a holiday to see their cousins and take advantage of their likely last opportunity to see their elderly aunt, who is now 90 years of age. She loves a lively conversation in her own language and her health improved with their visit to look forward to.

The three cousins had no secret plans to resettle here. Yes, life in Egypt is tough for many, but they all live a comfortable lifestyle. They were never candidates to spark radical movements here and certainly wouldn’t be flushing their precious passports down the airplane loo.

We wanted our kids to meet these people and learn about their fathers’ history. We looked forward to long summer evenings eating lots of good Egyptian food, playing backgammon and revelling in nostalgia. We are also so proud of this country and wanted to show it off.

I wrote back then: “What’s up with you, New Zealand Immigration? We will be in touch.”

Well, we never did get back in touch. We felt so defeated by the system. We did think about meeting the family members in Europe, but that just wouldn’t be the same. We wanted to share the beauty of this amazing country and never envisaged any obstacles…

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