S African family's deportation looms

"DEVASTATED": Cherie Vermaak.
"DEVASTATED": Cherie Vermaak.

A South African woman unlawfully living in Christchurch has been told she and her two children will have to leave the country on Wednesday if she does not find a job before then.

Cherie Vermaak, 42, broke down in tears last night as The Press told her the news.

''I'm just lost for words. They didn't tell me anything. This just can't happen to us.''

Vermaak had worked for the Christchurch City Council for four years but lost her job in March when her application for a work visa extension was declined by Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

She was told on May 23 that if she could obtain a job offer within the next six weeks, INZ would consider any subsequent request for a work visa.

The six-week time limit had run out and Vermaak had still not secured a job.

INZ branch manager Michael Carley told The Press last night that if Vermaak did not have employment by Wednesday, she and her children would have to leave New Zealand.

''Ms Vermaak has been granted a number of opportunities to work lawfully in New Zealand since 2010 and was given one final opportunity by Immigration New Zealand to obtain an offer of employment and submit a new work visa application,'' he aid.

Vermaak said she and her children, Kyle, 19, and Zelda, 16, were ''devastated'' by the outcome.

''We're very upset. There's nowhere else for us to go. Our whole lives are here now.''

Vermaak had family in South Africa but said they would not be able to support three people.

''They're over there freaking out because they know it's a possibility,'' she said.

''It would be even harder for me to find a job over there than it is here, plus it's not safe over there and I don't want to bring my children up in that environment. We can't go back.''

Vermaak had received some employment offers since The Press first ran her story, but none had fitted with INZ's criteria.

She still had 16 applications in for jobs, including with the Selwyn District Council, Fletcher Building and Ngai Tahu.

''I've put in for so many jobs but it takes time to hear back. They've made it an incredibly difficult process for both me and potential employers. I just don't understand how they can do this,'' she said.

A New Zealand Immigration and Settlement agent working on her behalf, Mike Bell, still believed INZ would be flexible in allowing Vermaak to stay while the application process closed.

''It is up to the INZ manager in Christchurch if she will see fit to extend the time period, and I think Cherie is worth making an exception for,'' he said.

''She has been working her butt off for the last six weeks and has done so well to get these applications in, but she needs more time to see the process through.

''She is a very skilled worker and I think it would be a real shame if they force her to leave.

''She doesn't have the money to leave either, so it would be at taxpayers' expense.

''At the moment she's costing the taxpayer nothing; it's a no-risk situation. The only risk is that she gets a good job and contributes to society and the Christchurch rebuild.'' 

Vermaak was not giving up hope.

''It's a huge blow but we're going to keep trying right till the end,'' she said.

''It's been a long struggle and we wouldn't keep going if we didn't want this so badly.''

The Press