Hundreds rally in support of Ukrainian family facing deportation

Hundreds of people have rallied in Auckland on Sunday in support of a Ukrainian family facing deportation.

Nataliya Shchetkova and her family thought New Zealand would be their home forever.

After they arrived here six years ago, they bought La Vista, a popular restaurant in Auckland's St Helier. They now employ 17 full-time staff - up from nine when they bought it.

But Immigration NZ says the business does not add enough benefit to New Zealand by creating sustained and on-going employment over and above the existing level of employment.

The family of seven have been denied residency and told they should start planning to leave by July 1 - including selling their restaurant if necessary.

But the community is doing what it can to keep them here.

"I think they bring something very special to New Zealand," a member of the public told Newshub.

"We'd love her to stay. She's part of the community and really adds to the colour of this place."

ACT Party leader David Seymour has started a petition asking for the family to be granted residency by special direction, which now has over 13,000 signatures. It's one of the most popular in years.

"The Government has declined their application for residency despite the family building a successful business as required by their visa requirements," it reads.

"I believe it is simply wrong that upstanding citizens be sent to war-torn Ukraine when others of varying character are allowed to stay. Please show your support of the Immigration Minister intervening so they can stay."

And he organised the massive gathering in St Heliers for the public to show its support.

"The Immigration Minister has the opportunity to do the right thing. It's clear this community supports the Shchetkovas," he told Newshub.

"He should be making the law for the community not for some distant bureaucracy who's got it wrong."

The family said they were humbled by the support.

"I can't express all my depth of my gratitude to all New Zealand community for the incredible support we got," Ms Shchetkova told the crowd.

"It gives us a hope of restoring justice and power to keep working. Over the last six years, we have not invested only money and hard work in New Zealand, but also even more important things. It is our hearts and our souls.

"We dreamt to build our future here for our children to live in safe, beautiful, inclusive country."

The petition to keep the Shchetkovas in New Zealand closes on Monday, and will be presented to Parliament on Tuesday.