Immigration NZ blocks gifted Timorese singer from attending prestigious music camp

Timorese engineering student Fernando Cabral was hoping to be singing among choristers at a music school in Nelson on Thursday.

Instead, the 23-year-old is almost 6000km away in his home city of Dili.

Hugh Collett, a New Zealander living in Timor-Leste, stumbled across a Facebook video of him singing with his church choir.

"It bowled me over, I had never realised the choir was that good or that they had voices like that.

"He's never had any training [yet] he's been singing since he was six years old."

Collett says he immediately started looking for opportunities for Fernando in New Zealand.

He came across the Teapot Summer School in Nelson which offered the tenor a partial scholarship which covered Cabral's meals and accommodation.

To cover his travel costs and the summer camp fees Fernando's choir banded together for a fundraising concert.

The community in Dili also backed Fernando, his sponsors including former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Jose Ramos Horta.

Cabral got his first-ever passport.

"We'd just about raised the full lot; I paid for his air ticket.

"Everything came to a screeching halt when his visa was turned down," says Collett.

Immigration New Zealand rejected Cabral's visa on four counts.

Fernando had failed to provide proof of employment in Timor, show he had strong family ties, proof of previous international travel and show evidence of his reasons for travelling to New Zealand.

In his second application, Cabral provided evidence he is a fulltime engineering student at the University of Dili and therefore unemployed.

A letter allayed fears of overstaying - Cabral would be returning to Timor-Leste after the camp to finish the final semester of his three-year degree.

The application included a letter from his five siblings and parents along with photos of his family and another letter from the Teapot Summer School assuring immigration he is in New Zealand for a choral course.

For a second time, Immigration New Zealand rejected his application.

"The new information that was provided was still not sufficient to demonstrate that Mr Cabral met the bona fide requirements under immigration instructions," Jock Gilray, General Manager of Border and Visa Operation from Immigration New Zealand, said.

Teapot Summer School organiser Inga Lane was in disbelief when word of rejection came through.

She had personally called and written to immigration to help Fernando's application.

"I actually cried... I just thought this can's be true," she said.

She says she will do everything in her power to help the singer attend the camp next year and has offered Cabral a full scholarship for next year's camp.

But Cabral is still in the dark as to why his application was rejected.

He says he's so sad about missing the camp in Nelson and doesn't know how he can prove he is trustworthy to immigration New Zealand.