Chef's long wait in bid to stay in NZ

'I thought I had followed all their rules'

SARAH JARVIS
Last updated 05:00 05/07/2014
Ravindra Naidu
JOHN BISSET/Fairfax NZ
BIG BATTLE: Qualified chef Ravindra Naidu has spent over $4000 in a bid to remain in New Zealand and could still face deportation.

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It could be a long, agonising year for Fijian Ravindra Naidu, who is waiting to hear if he is allowed to remain in New Zealand.

» Editorial: Bad taste to chef's case

The qualified chef has been living in Timaru since November 2012 and is desperate to resolve his immigration woes.

"I am very nervous I will be given my marching orders," he said.

After originally arriving in New Zealand to visit family, Naidu found employment with the South Canterbury Returned and Services Association (RSA).

On minimum wage and part-time hours, he was encouraged to find work elsewhere.

He found another job as a chef for an established Timaru restaurant and contacted Immigration New Zealand (INZ), only to discover he was in breach of his work visa.

"I thought I had followed all their rules, so I was shocked when they told me I had something that could affect my stay here."

Following the advice of INZ and an immigration consultant, Naidu spent the next five months applying for permission to stay here - resulting finally in a Humanitarian Appeal Against Deportation to the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, which is administered by the Ministry of Justice.

A ministry spokesperson said due to a "large number of applications", Naidu's appeal could take up to 12 months.

In that time he is not allowed to work.

Not denying he made a mistake, Naidu claims he never received documentation with his work visa.

"I get a different person every time I call immigration . . . as far as I'm concerned I have done everything they ask of me."

Naidu's sister Saleshni Burke, 37, a New Zealand resident and nurse at Timaru Hospital, is gutted for her brother.

"I can see when he's stressed, he doesn't eat or drink," Burke said.

"All he wants to do is work and support his family."

Naidu does not want to be a burden on his sister and her husband, financially or emotionally.

A INZ spokesperson told The Timaru Herald yesterday Naidu was required to contact them immediately if he "lost his job, was made redundant or chose to leave his job".

Last financial year INZ issued 168,480 work visas, of which 158,542 were approved and 9938 declined.

VISA CONFUSION UPSETS PLANS TO STAY ON IN NZ

Ravindra Naidu's future in Timaru is now in the hands of Immigration New Zealand and it is not looking good.

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With deportation on the cards, the 30-year-old Fijian contacted The Timaru Herald.

"You are my last hope," the quietly spoken chef said.

On April 5, 2013, Naidu had a New Zealand work visa approved so he could begin working for the South Canterbury Returned and Services Association (RSA) in Timaru.

He originally arrived in the country on a three-month visitor's visa on November 25, 2012, to visit his only sister, who lives in Timaru.

Educated to a tertiary level, the Nadi resident was working as a chef at a five-star golf resort in Fiji.

While on holiday here, his homeland was struck by Cyclone Evan, affecting tourism and his job.

His sister, Saleshni, and brother-in-law Gordon Burke asked if he would consider moving to Timaru, and set about helping him find work.

When the RSA, and then general manager Don McCully, heard about his situation they offered to employ him and support an application for a work visa. Part of that application required him to obtain medical and police checks. He did both.

"I wanted to work here and in a job where I could use my skills."

Naidu has a wife and daughters, aged 7 and 4, who spent time with him in New Zealand last year. They have since returned home and live with his parents.

"I miss them so much," he said.

"They are waiting to find out about my situation."

Excited and full of hope, Naidu started his job with the RSA as a sous chef on April 15, 2013. He believed it was a fulltime position. It wasn't.

"I realised I was not able to support myself and my family on the hours and minimum rate I was receiving."

He said he discussed his situation with McCully, who advised him he was free to look for employment elsewhere.

"He looked at my work visa and it said I 'may' work as sous chef for South Canterbury Returned Services Association, Don McCully in Timaru" - it didn't say I 'must' so he told me I could look for work elsewhere."

With a shortage of chefs in Timaru, Naidu easily found a new opportunity, working at a popular restaurant, in September last year.

After a two-week trial, he was offered a fulltime position and contacted immigration.

"That's when I was told I was in breach of my work visa and they told me to stop work immediately and stay at home. They told me I could only work for the RSA and I should have completed a Variation of Conditions."

Naidu said he was never made aware of the requirement.

Michelle Brown, the new RSA general manager, wrote to INZ on December 12, 2013, in support of Naidu.

In her letter to INZ she said: "The wording of the work visa was also ambiguous enough to confuse someone for whom English is not his first language. Whilst I understand now from speaking with the Immigration officer on 11.12.13 that this is standard legal wording, it did confuse Ravi and perhaps my predecessor, Don McCully, who is no longer working for the SC RSA."

Naidu said he was advised by INZ to apply for another visitor's visa. He did so on December 19, 2013, but the application was declined.

Responding on behalf of INZ, lead communications adviser Marc Piercey said although Naidu's visa label used the wording that he 'may' work as a sous chef for the RSA, his letter made it clear that he was required to contact INZ immediately if he lost his job, was made redundant or chose to leave his job.

Piercey said his subsequent application for a visitor's visa was declined as he did not meet the definition of a bona fide applicant. He had previously breached the conditions of his visa.

"In the past Mr Naidu has accepted that he began working for another employer before he had the authority to do so. INZ is not satisfied that Mr Naidu will not breach his visa conditions again in the future," he said.

A distraught and concerned Naidu also sought the advice of immigration adviser Harjeet Golian, based in Auckland.

Golian lodged another visitor's application in February 2014, which was again declined.

In May, Naidu applied for a visa under Section 61 of the Immigration Act 2009, which was also refused.

The response stated: "As your visa has expired you are now unlawfully in New Zealand and must leave New Zealand immediately."

Golian said Naidu's only option was to apply for a Deportation Humanitarian Appeal with the Immigration and Protection Tribunal (IPT).

The IPT, which is administered by the Ministry of Justice, received his application on May 19 this year.

The processing time for an appeal was between nine and 12 months.

A Ministry spokesperson said Naidu's paper appeal will be most likely be heard next year.

He could not comment on whether Naidu would be deported, however INZ confirmed it had no plans to take any compliance action against him "until the outcome of the IPT appeal is known".

Naidu has spent more than $4000 on costs associated with his struggle to stay here. His sister and her husband are now financially supporting him.

Golian believed INZ was taking a very tough stance against Naidu.

"He was not deliberately trying to hide anything or deceive immigration," he said.

"It was he who contacted them and he was honest."

Golian said it was unfortunate Naidu was now "an overstayer".

He said there was no consistency with immigration cases.

"He has done everything he can. He has full support from a new employer and skills to contribute. Is he a liability? No."

Golian said he would like immigration to consider his work skills and what he can contribute to the Timaru workforce.

"Is he going to be a burden on the taxpayer? No. Has he got skills that are needed here? Yes."

Piercey said Naidu's most recent request for a work visa was made under Section 61 of the Immigration Act, which provided the decision-maker with the power, in his or her absolute discretion, to grant a visa of any type to a person unlawfully in New Zealand and otherwise liable for deportation.

"When a request is considered, the Act specifically states that the decision-maker is not required to give reasons for the decision."

He said in general terms work visas were only granted to applicants who could work fulltime, meaning on average at least 30 hours per week.

"This requirement ensures that they can earn enough money to sustain themselves."

Former RSA bar manager Ian Lindsay has also been helping Naidu.

"He was a good worker and wanted more hours. He was taking home less than someone sitting on their arse on the dole. He's such a nice young lad and doesn't deserve this. The whole thing has been a mess."

For Naidu, the news that his appeal could take up to a year devastated him. "What can I do now?"

When asked if he would consider returning to Fiji, he answered: "I would have lived here for one year, nine months for nothing. How do I explain everything to my relatives? All they will think is I did something very wrong here. It's like I am being treated like a criminal.

"I just feel sad and want people to know my story," he said.

While they are happy to support their family member, the Burkes are also living their life in limbo.

"We are tired of dealing with immigration. We just want a result," his sister said.

The Timaru Herald understands Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew is soon to meet Naidu.

- The Timaru Herald

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