An Australian couple are horrified and disgusted their 18-year-old French au pair was locked in a police cell overnight and then deported by Queenstown Airport immigration officials.
Au pair Manon Pache flew to New Zealand for a one-week visit in December with her employers, Pip and Paul Johnston, their two children, aged 2 and 4, and Mr Johnston’s parents.
Pip Johnston, a veterinarian in Tenterfield, New South Wales, told the Otago Daily Times the arrangement with Pache was she would not be paid during their stay in Wanaka and wouldn’t be expected to work.
However, immigration officials noted the Johnstons were paying Pache’s travel and accommodation, and Pache admitted during an interview she would undertake childminding, although she also maintained she would not be paid.
After being interviewed, Pache was put in a cell in Queenstown for the night and deported to Australia the next day.
Johnston says the incident “really put the wind up” Pache, who had been working for them for four months.
“You’ve got a young kid going to a foreign country … she was absolutely terrified.”
Pache is now back in France. She has not spoken to the ODT but did arrange a privacy waiver allowing Immigration New Zealand to respond to questions about her case.
Immigration NZ is part of the Business Ministry.
Johnston complained to the ministry about Pache’s treatment, explaining she was travelling with the family as a companion and friend.
“I offered Manon either the week off in Australia or she could come to NZ with us as a friend, not working or getting paid. She chose to make the trip.
“My husband and I gifted the flight to her, as she has been such a wonderful friend to our family.”
Johnston says Pache occasionally looked after their daughters in Australia in the evening, “as a friend outside of work hours”.
However, Johnston maintains to the ministry and the ODT that wasn’t to be the case in Wanaka.
Johnston says she explained that to a Queenstown immigration officer while Manon was being held.
“[The officer] asked if Manon was working whilst here and I said, ‘Definitely not’.
“… He asked what would happen if the four Johnstons wanted to go out to dinner. Who would look after the children?
“I said the children would be coming with us; that is the point of a family holiday.
“He then said: ‘Well Manon’s lying, because she told me she might look after the children if you went out to dinner.”
Johnston says Pache called her from the police station in “great distress”. She says she wasn’t allowed to phone the French embassy or access her belongings.
Johnston says she had been willing to sign a statutory declaration stating Pache was with the family “for holiday reasons only”, and would have participated in an interview but wasn’t given the chance.
She describes the officer as “incredibly rude and unreasonable”.
“I believe the visa refusal decision was not made justly and the treatment she received from the immigration officer was unprofessional and intimidating.”
Responding to Johnston’s complaint, Immigration NZ border boss Amanda Mehrtens says initial conversations led to concerns Pache may not be a bona fide visitor.
“The border officer explained that for immigration purposes, work is defined as any activity undertaken for gain or reward.
“Given that Miss Pache’s accommodation and travel had been provided to her in exchange for undertaking child-care activities this would constitute work. As such, Miss Pache was assessed as likely to breach any visitor visa granted to her.”
Mehrtens says the interview recording showed the officer was polite and “did not act in a manner which I consider unreasonable”.
Immigration NZ national manager border Senta Jehle says Pache was refused entry “on the grounds that the arrangement she had made with the Johnston family constituted work and as such would be in breach of any visitor visa granted to her”.
Jehle says it’s unfortunate there are no facilities at Queenstown other than police cells in which to accommodate passengers overnight and that was being looked into.
She didn’t respond to ODT questions about the harm Pache’s visit might do and whether immigration officials had room for discretion.
Otago Daily Times