A Chilean family who have called New Zealand home for seven years are ‘stuck in limbo’ due to visa issues related to their daughter’s disability.
Like most teenage girls, Ignacia Vasquez loves shopping and going to the beach. “She likes to do everything,” says her mother, Carolina Vasquez.
The 17-year-old also lives with learning disabilities. She can speak few words, but is very clear when she wants something.
The Christchurch-based family, which includes Carolina’s husband, Cristian Vasquez, and 18-year-old son, Fernando, moved from Chile to New Zealand in 2015 on visitor visas.
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An attempt to obtain a student visa for Ignacia was rejected due to “significant costs on special education services”; she and her brother were forced to return to Chile without their mother.
Four years later, Carolina Vasquez returned to Chile to try to bring her children to New Zealand.
Fernando, who is not disabled, had his student visa processed and accepted within two weeks, but Ignacia’s visa application ran into hurdles with requests for medical reports and specialist reports .
By then Vasquez had to return to New Zealand to work and his children stayed with their father, stepmother and grandparents.
Ignacia was finally granted a student visa in November 2019, but only after then-associate immigration minister Poto Williams intervened with an exception to health requirements.
This visa has since expired, and Ignacia has been on a temporary visa until now. The entire family’s residency visa applications depend on a decision based on Ignacia’s student visa application.
Carolina Vasquez and her husband work full time in the hospitality industry.
Vasquez has a long-term work-resident visa in skills shortage until May 2022, and her husband has a partnership visa.
However, Fernando’s life is still on hiatus and he has been forced to repeat his final year of high school as the family awaits the results of Ignacia’s student visa application to find out if the family can stay in New Zealand in as residents.
The Immigration New Zealand Argument
The latest letter from Immigration New Zealand (INZ), linked to the family’s last application in January, said Ignacia’s disability could affect the outcome of her student visa application as it could “impose costs or significant demands on New Zealand’s special education services”.
Special Education Services comes into action when a student with additional learning needs qualifies for the Department of Education’s Continuing Renewal Program (ORS) – a funding program for students in need of a specialized support.
The INZ letter also said an applicant could be refused a visa if their condition “required health services costing more than NZ$41,000” over a five-year period.
A medical assessor’s opinion at INZ said Ignacia “would likely require full-time care”, but Carolina Vasquez disputed that opinion, calling it “exaggeration”.
A letter to INZ, seen by Thingfrom the General Family Medicine Clinic at Ferry Road Medical Center, said Ignacia’s “general health is excellent” and that she did not require long-term medication.
The doctor also highlighted Ignacia’s independence, noting that she “has no trouble navigating stairs, is able to groom herself, can dress herself and can stand up.” to feed”.
“Apart from her cognitive issue, she’s a very healthy girl,” Vasquez said. “She uses no drugs or medical care, and she has never used government services except for education.”
Ignacia’s quality of life was much better in New Zealand than in Chile, her mother said, adding that the whole situation and being “stuck in limbo” was “very stressful”.
“Playing with eugenics”
Disability advocate Juliana Carvalho’s own immigration ‘nightmare’ began in 2019, seven years after she arrived in New Zealand.
She arrived in New Zealand from Brazil on a student visa in 2012. Carvalho is a paraplegic and suffers from lupus, an autoimmune disease.
She said it was wrong to assume that all people with disabilities would place significant costs or demands on New Zealand’s health and education services.
Carvalho works full time, drives a car and does not need carers to support her day-to-day needs, although her disability is on INZ’s list of medical conditions “deemed to impose significant costs”.
Some people in society need more help and that’s “fair”, she said, but INZ “plays with eugenics when you decide that some human beings are more valuable than others “.
After years of campaigning to fight his case with various lawyers and government agencies, his resident visa was obtained in July 2020, after the intervention of Williams, the associate minister for immigration at the time.
She was exempted from the acceptable standard of health requirement because her character requirement was clean.
Despite the win, she said it took a huge toll on her mental health and the whole immigration process was “hurtful and dehumanizing”, trying to prove her worth as a disabled person.
On top of that, she estimated it cost about $100,000 to cover lost income, attorney fees, court fees, immigration fees, and medical assessment fees.
In 2021, she presented a petition calling for “Ending Disability Discrimination in the Immigration System” to the Education and Workforce Select Committee.
He recommended to the Government that the acceptable level of health be reviewed so that health requirements are aligned with a strengths-based approach to disabilities, screening only for the most serious health conditions.
The government must provide a written response to this recommendation by March 18, 2022.
In 2007, New Zealand signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Article 18(b) of the UNCRPD states that persons with disabilities: “shall not be deprived, by reason of their disability, of their ability to obtain, possess and use documents evidencing their nationality or other identifying documents , or to use relevant processes such as immigration procedures, which may be necessary to facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of movement.
Thing asked Immigration NZ if its policy “A4.10 Acceptable Standard of Health (Residence Applicants)” complied with the UNCRPD.
The question has not been answered.
Thing also asked INZ for a response to Carvalho’s petition and petition recommendation. No response was given.
But, in a written statement, INZ’s managing director of border operations and visas, Nicola Hogg, said that in accordance with immigration requirements, all applicants must have an acceptable level of health in order to obtain a visa. .
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Hogg said the $41,000 health cost threshold is used to determine whether a resident visa applicant has a condition that could impose significant costs on the public health system. This threshold was set at the wealthiest 5% of users of health services to ensure that only migrants likely to impose the greatest costs would not meet the health requirements.
“Those with minor or routine medical issues will not be affected,” she said. “This threshold was last changed in 2012, however, INZ and the Department of Health are currently reviewing the $41,000 threshold to verify that it is appropriate.
“The government supports inclusive policies for people with disabilities, but this needs to be balanced with ensuring that migrants do not impose high costs on New Zealand taxpayers, which is why there is a threshold test for cost potential that can be incurred by an individual,” she says.
“The parameters currently in place allow INZ to consider medical waivers on a case-by-case basis if a migrant does not have an acceptable level of health to meet immigration requirements.”