Fight or flight

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Support’s rallying for a highly-valued Queenstown massage therapist facing deportation from New Zealand.

Brazilian-born Maria De Souza, who’s lived in NZ for almost 12 years, has been refused a work-to-residence visa by Immigration NZ.

It cites concerns about her mental health status and long spells when she didn’t work full-time.

Since her visa expired in June, De Souza’s been supplied food and accommodation by community groups while her appeal to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal goes through.

Nadi Wellness Centre clients she’s treated have supported her with donations. She’s also received 70 support letters.

De Souza, 44, says: “I feel my case has not been given justice after living in NZ for 11.9 years, making a place in the community through my service and hard work.”

But Immigration NZ operations support manager Michael Carley says: “INZ is satisfied Ms De Souza has been given a fair hearing and had all aspects of her case considered.”

He says when it reconsidered her case it received “new information about Ms De Souza’s medical health status”.

“We depend on our medical assessors, rather than potential employers, for a thorough assessment of an applicant’s health status.”

Nadi Wellness Centre owner Sandi Murphy argues De Souza “absolutely deserves to continue to live here”.

“Her immediate family live in Brazil but her ‘family’ has become the community of friends she’s built up here.”

Murphy explains that De Souza learnt, at her own cost, Ayurvedic healing from a guru in India – “the style that Maria executes is unique in NZ”.

She’s also become “a pinnacle member of my team”.

“Without Maria involved in our business and community there would be a huge loss to all those who benefit from her special healing abilities.”

De Souza says her mental health issues stem from a relationship break-up in 2011 which saw her hospitalised for “situational stress”.

After her discharge she says she was fired from a cleaning job, leading to “an emotional breakdown”.

While unemployed she travelled NZ without notifying Immigration NZ, which she’s apologised for.

Having her application declined “has left me with a sense of despondency”, De Souza says.

Murphy, who’s employed De Souza for several years, says she’s “98 per cent of the time in a perfectly stable state of health”.

Murphy adds that not only has De Souza taken huge strides to improve her mental health, but she’s also, through that experience, helped others.

In a testimonial, friend Shane Johnston says: “Maria has been an excellent role model and support person for her fellow immigrants from all nations.

“While it is true that Maria has a mental health issue …. [she’s ] doing as well as is humanly possible.

“I would hate to think, given Maria’s extraordinary progress, that issue would be held against her staying in NZ.”

‘Meditate for Maria and Mental Health’ yoga class at Nadi Wellness Centre, Stanley Street , with pot-luck dinner to follow at Queenstown Dharma Centre