'It's tearing them apart': Nelson firefighter denied residency despite 53,000-strong petition

A Nelson volunteer firefighter has been denied permanent residency by Immigration New Zealand (INZ), despite a petition signed by tens of thousands urging it to let him stay.

Steve Webster and his family are from England, but are desperate to become New Zealanders.

A friend of the family established a petition back in February to try and sway the decision to send Webster and his family back to England.

This petition has now reached 53,696 signatures - but Ken Mahon, the petition's founder, has confirmed the family have been denied permanent residency by Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

"It's one of the larger petitions, but unfortunately the Minister hasn't agreed with 50,000 people," Mahon told Newshub.

Instead, Lees-Galloway has granted Steve, his wife and their daughter a two-year work visa.

"I think it's pretty sad [Lees-Galloway] declined it," Mahon told Newshub. "[Webster] has accepted the work visa, but obviously it's not what we're after."

Lees-Galloway declined to comment, saying it would not be appropriate for him to comment on individual cases.

Mahon says the uncertainty of their future is causing Webster and his family great distress.

"Steve's daughter wants to enter the police force but she's actually decided the uncertainty is too much, and she's going to move back to England - so it's tearing their family apart," he said.

"They really want to be New Zealanders, and they deserve to be New Zealanders. We just can't understand how a good family like this can't get in."

Although the family and Mahon are disheartened by Immigration's rejection, Mahon hasn't lost all hope.

"He's done a lot for the community, so maybe if we give [Lees-Galloway] a little push, he'll change his mind."