Forced from the country


A Queenstown restaurant boss has been booted out of the country despite Immigration New Zealand claims it’s helping employers hire foreign labour.

Estonian Kreete Kaarus, 30, a Britannia Restaurant staff member for the past three years, says her work visa had been regularly renewed.

Last year, however, her residence visa application was refused.

Her application to then roll over her work visa was also declined, and she was given till yesterday to leave the country.

Immigration NZ (INZ) area boss Michael Carley says her role didn’t meet the skilled migrant criteria for a residence visa, and she’d failed to declare in previous applications, going back to 2012, that she’d formerly been unlawfully in Australia.

Kaarus says she’d overstayed due to a “total mis-understanding” and only knew about it when her then boyfriend was told as they left the country.

In a letter to INZ, she says she “declared this in my first work visa application” but didn’t on her renewal in 2014 after looking at the questions more carefully.

“I have never been excluded, refused a visa or removed or deported so I did not lie in my application,” she wrote.

Kaarus, who understands she’d be “sweet” to return to Australia, says she was gutted to have to leave town because she’d started a new life here.

“I planned to stay in NZ forever.”

Britannia owner Brian Muirhead says Kaarus was an excellent employee.

“She never had a day off, she worked whenever you wanted her to work, she wouldn’t have cost the country a cent.

“She was just a good honest and exceptionally hard-working person, trustworthy, everything.”

Kaarus says her immigration battles over the past year have been stressful and cost more than $4000, wiping her savings.

She also employed local lawyer Russell Mawhinney to plead her case, and was blown away to find out before Christmas that her friends had stumped up for her legal bill.

Mawhinney says he applied for a special direction from INZ but was unsuccessful.

“Immigration is supposed to be looking at [Queenstown] as a special case and I’ve got heaps of business clients that if they couldn’t get overseas staff readily, it would seriously affect their business.

“There’s been talk about the policy [for Queenstown] but I’m just not sure if that’s flowed through to the people on the ground who are actually processing the applications.”

Carley says INZ appreciates Queenstown employers rely on overseas labour and it’s trying to identify short- and long-term solutions, such as training and retention strategies.

Carley says Kaarus was able to appeal the decision to decline her residence visa but “she has chosen not to”.