South African family offered help

02:48, May 24 2012

A South African family facing deportation has been inundated with offers of help after today's story in The Press.

Cherie Vermaak has been living unlawfully in Christchurch since her work visa extension was declined in March, but yesterday she was told by Immigration New Zealand (INZ) that she had one last chance to stay in New Zealand if she could find a job within six weeks.

Since the story appeared in The Press today, Vermaak has received dozens of calls offering food and support. Two callers had offered the solo mother a job.

Vermaak, 42, said she had been "blown away" by the offers.

"I've had so many calls from people; it's been really heart-warming. I never expected this kind of response."

She was to meet one potential employer this afternoon over a possible job in healthcare.

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"They've offered to train me up to work in healthcare. I thought it was fantastic,'' she said.

''I'm always wanting to get trained and add to my skill base. We're going to meet this afternoon and talk through it."

Another caller had offered her a job as a nanny to her grandchildren, while a recruitment agency had also been in touch offering to help her find a job.

"One woman from Whangarei also called and said she would help me deal with the immigration process as she knew how it worked. She asked if I'd be willing to relocate and I said I might be. At this point I'm willing to do anything. It's just so great to hear from people who care," Vermaak said.

Vermaak's two children, Kyle, 19, and Zelda, 16, felt more positive after the offers of help.

Her daughter was forced to leave Burnside High School and her son has not been able to get a job since their visas were declined.

"They've been in a pretty bad place after all this, but they seem a bit better," Vermaak said.

The family fled South Africa fearing for their safety in 2007 and had enjoyed their life in New Zealand until their world was turned upside down in March.

Vermaak lost her job at the Christchurch City Council when her application for a work visa extension was declined by INZ.

The family received a request from INZ for a renewal of police clearances and medical checks two days before their visas expired.

Vermaak begged for an extension but was told by INZ ''it wasn't their policy to renew a visa without updated documents''.

After losing her job, she was forced to sell nearly all of her belongings to pay the rent and often the family went hungry.

Yesterday, Vermaak experienced a ''huge flood of relief'' when INZ said it had granted her one final opportunity to remain in New Zealand while she obtained an offer of employment.

''Ms Vermaak has been told that if she can obtain an offer of employment within the next six weeks, INZ will consider any subsequent request for a work visa she wishes to make. If a visa is granted, her dependent children would then also be granted the appropriate visas. If Ms Vermaak does not obtain an offer of employment within six weeks INZ expects her and her children to voluntarily depart New Zealand,'' an INZ spokeswoman said.

''We are all absolutely relieved. It's definitely the outcome we were hoping for," Vermaak said.

The Press