Teen girl wins last-minute reprieve after being told she was in NZ illegally

By Gill Bonnett of RNZ

A teenage girl who was told she had lived illegally in New Zealand all her life has won a reprieve – thanks to an 11th hour discovery on her mother’s immigration file.

The 14-year-old girl only found out she was not a New Zealand resident when her mother made a passport inquiry.

Immigration New Zealand (INZ) then decided her 34-year-old mother, who is from Kiribati, may be liable for deportation because she had not declared her baby during her 2006 residence application.

The girl’s own residence application was rejected.

Even the girl’s mother and the family’s lawyer accepted INZ’s decision that the family, from Kiribati, had not told immigration officials about the child’s existence during their 2006 residence application under the Pacific Access Category.

INZ decided the mother would not have been eligible under immigration rules as a dependent child, if she had a child herself.

The mother appealed her daughter’s case to the immigration and protection tribunal, saying there had been no intent to deceive and asking for an exception to residence rules as a result of her special circumstances.

The tribunal ruled there had been no deception and the basis for INZ rejecting her application was simply incorrect.

It found on INZ’s files the record of a phone call from the girl’s grandmother telling officials about the birth, and internal emails dating back to 2006.

INZ’s notes showed it knew she had been born and had decided it did not affect her mother’s residence application.

“The tribunal finds that the decision was not correct because Immigration New Zealand was aware of [her] existence before it decided her mother’s application. The decision is cancelled and the application is returned to Immigration New Zealand for a correct assessment.”

A four-year ordeal

The case has been hanging over the family since the girl was told she was unlawfully in the country in 2016.

Two years later, an immigration officer assessing her residence application told colleagues her mother may be liable for deportation because the girl had not been declared on her visa application.

“The mother believed that [her daughter] was a New Zealand resident and so finding out that this was not the case came as a surprise,” the tribunal noted in its decision earlier this year.

“Apparently unaware of the fact that Immigration New Zealand had known about [the girl] when determining her mother’s residence application, her representative submitted that the mother had not realised that she should have advised Immigration New Zealand of [the girl’s] birth before it determined her family’s residence application.”

The tribunal ordered INZ to reconsider her residence application.

“There remains the question as to why all parties proceeded on the basis that Immigration New Zealand had not known about [the girl] at the time the mother’s application was determined. The tribunal can understand that her mother may have simply accepted, during the assessment of [the girl’s] application, that Immigration New Zealand did not know about the appellant when it granted her residence.

“The evidence suggests that she relied on her parents to deal with all aspects of the application and she had limited involvement in the assessment process for that reason. That could also explain how the representative may have become confused on this matter.

“However, what is not clear is why Immigration New Zealand, when assessing the appellant’s residence application, failed to recognise that it had been made aware of [her] existence when assessing the mother’s application. Information confirming that fact was located on both the mother’s residence application file and her electronic notes.”

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