Daughter of skilled migrants repeats year 13 as residency application languishes

Hundreds of children of skilled migrants are paying the price of an immigration backlog, with delays to their education and a growing toll on their mental health. 

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Teenagers have been left unable to work or study once they turn 18. Source: 1 NEWS

Immigration New Zealand figures 1 NEWS obtained showed there were 320 17 and 18-year-olds whose parents have an expression of interest in the pool for a skilled migrants category for permanent residence.

But with selections from this pool on hold since April last year - it could be years before their applications are granted - if at all.

In the meantime, as these students become adults, they are left with few choices -  repeating year 13, waiting it out on a visitor's visa unable to study or work, or going back to their country of citizenship without their families.

But with New Zealand's borders still closed to all except for residents and citizens - the prospect of leaving their families behind indefinitely is something most are reluctant to consider. 

Marne Wessles is 20, and as her family's expression of interest has sat in the frozen pool for over a year, her future is in limbo.

"Mum and Dad are working, my sister is in school, but I sit at home and do absolutely the minimum," she says. "I keep myself busy by just doing my causal little art projects and cleaning the house with mum and dad, but it's not mentally enough."

The prospect of going back to South Africa, is terrifying for her, especially with the recent scenes of unrest triggered by the jailing of former President Jacob Zuma. 

"[I feel] scared. I don't know what is going to happen, if I am going to be able to support myself, if I'm going to end up being homeless." 

She has already done Year 13 twice - in an effort to pass the time.

"I felt like I was a failure," she says. "People saying I'm not smart, I have to do this again because I wasn't good enough you know, and that's not true. I have to go back because of what my visa said and that's not fair." 

Now on a visitor's visa, unable to work or study, she is struggling with the toll the uncertainty is taking on her mental health. She says if her family had known there was no clear pathway forward, they would never have come here. 

"I had this conversation with my dad, and he said if he knew I was going to sit at home, losing my mind, going to be depressed, he wouldn't have [taken the job]." 

Multicultural New Zealand's (MCNZ) recent survey of migrants shows she's not alone in her struggles. Over a week they received 150 responses from migrants and their families here and in New Zealand. 

More than half rated the toll on their mental health as high. MCNZ president Pancha Narayan suspects this is just the tip of the iceberg, as migrants struggle to know if they have a future here, and when they may see their families again.  

"People are somewhat distressed with the state of affairs with Covid-19 and separation with their families," he says. 

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi says work was being done to address these concerns and officials were looking into what options were available for those who turned 18 while waiting. 

But he also issued this word of caution. "I would just also point out that they are applications, they do take some time to go through, but they aren't guaranteed residency, so they have to be mindful of that." 

Marne Wessles. Source: 1 NEWS

The migrant community is pushing for greater clarity and a long-term vision around immigration that includes a pathway forward beyond Covid-19.