A migrant woman who allegedly suffered domestic violence at the hands of her former Kiwi partner could be forced to leave New Zealand without her two young children from the relationship.
Her application for a residence visa – under the domestic violence category – was turned down in September because she can’t prove she would face stigma in her home country or be unable to support herself financially there.
Her work visa expires on December 24, and because her ex-partner won’t let her return to her native country with the children, she fears she will have to leave without them.
The woman, whom Mountain Scene cannot name for legal reasons, says Immigration NZ told her they could not consider the two children – both under five – in assessing her application. That’s “inhumane”, she says.
“I can’t imagine my life without my children.
“They need a mother in their lives.”
Her greatest fear is they would grow up thinking she had deliberately abandoned them.
Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker is appealing to the Associate Minister of Immigration for the woman’s work visa to be renewed while she waits for the Immigration & Protection Tribunal to consider the case.
Walker says she’s stuck in a “horrible” situation that highlights shortfalls in the agency’s policy for supporting migrant women who are victims of domestic violence.
Separating her from her children would “further victimise a survivor of physical and sexual harm”, he says.
She had left the allegedly abusive relationship to provide a safe environment for her and her children, he says.
“No matter where you are in the world, you should feel free to leave an unsafe relationship.
“The emotional harm and ongoing trauma these children would endure, due to being denied their birth mother, would be the worst possible outcome for them.”
The woman lived in the resort with her then-partner from 2014 until 2017, when she left him because physical and psychological abuse, she alleges.
She lost her home as a result, and had no savings because he controlled their finances.
After two years of uncertainty about her immigration status, and struggling to get by financially with part-time work, she is suffering from depression.
She continues to rely on support from the Salvation Army, Happiness House and Central Lakes Family Services, friends and a kind landlady.
“I’ve survived because they’ve supported me.”
Her residency application includes an older child, from a previous relationship in her native country, whom she says is at an age when it would be extremely hard to reintegrate into its education system.
Dunedin lawyer Geoff Mirkin, who is handling her tribunal appeal on a pro bono basis, says should it be unsuccessful, an application to the Family Court for a relocation order, allowing her to take the children to home, is a potential option.
“Until such time as the tribunal makes a decision, and the Family Court can determine the future status of these children, someone needs to intervene and grant her – even if it’s temporary – a right to remain in NZ, and to work.”
The case was “highly unusual” because of the alleged domestic violence and evidence the woman’s children had witnessed it. It’s further complicated by the unfairness of the older child being uprooted from her NZ education and friends.
Although such cases are complex and difficult for Immigration NZ to handle, women should not be penalised for leaving an abusive relationship and thereby giving up their path to residency, Mirkin says.
Immigration NZ operations support manager Michael Carley says the agency can’t comment on the matter because it’s been appealed to the Immigration & Protection Tribunal, and is therefore subject to judicial proceedings.
However, the agency can consider a temporary visa for people to remain in NZ during the tribunal appeal process.
The woman should contact the agency to discuss her options, Carley says.