OPINION: The happy ending for Nelson cafe owners battling to stay in New Zealand shows the value of local action.
Scottish couple Steve Wilson and Rachel Yerbury-Wilson, and their six-month old baby Lewis, were facing a deadline to leave the country after Immigration New Zealand advised them last month they did not meet the criteria for residency under their business visa.
But after their plight was highlighted in the Nelson Mail, and the local community and Nelson MP Nick Smith rallied in support, common sense has prevailed.
Associate Immigration Minister Nikki Kaye used her discretion this week to grant the family residency, subject to meeting health and character requirements they have already supplied.
The couple run an enterprising central Nelson cafe, Pottering About, where customers can paint pottery products while they enjoy food and coffee.
However, the business did not meet profit criteria under the long term business visa they entered the country on two years ago.
That fits a simple application of the rules, but it did not make allowances for the troubled path the couple faced before they could even open their cafe.
Their immigration adviser Glenn Standing was found to have given them and 18 other clients misleading and dishonest advice, including a 100 per cent guarantee of residency, and also charged them excessive fees. They were not told of the profitability criteria.
It's possible that without such misleading advice the couple may not have sold up everything to settle on the other side of the world, or may have chosen to apply under another category. Instead, they were on the back foot from the start.
The groundswell of support from the community was a testament to how well they have made a new home in the three years since they arrived in Nelson.
As well as a 1500-signature petition supporting their stay, customers held a fundraising evening, and one eight-year-old girl took the petition to Nelson Central school.
Dr Smith's plea to Ms Kaye made the point that the Wilsons' cafe adds to Nelson's reputation as a centre of creativity. It was hard to put a value on an enterprise that adds to the city's character, but does not meet a straight financial threshold, he said.
That raises a wider issue around migrant policies. The long term business visa category that the Wilsons came out on has just been replaced because the Government says it was attracting "too many low quality applications". Under its replacement, applicants need a minimum $100,000 in capital but get extra points for expanding or starting businesses outside Auckland.
It's ironic that a small, innovative business like the Wilsons may have not made the cut because of the high capital requirement.
- The Nelson Mail