Warning: This article deals with mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts.
A Brazilian man living on Auckland's North Shore says his and his wife's life is in limbo as the wait for his new work visa passes the five-month mark.
The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, has lived in New Zealand with his wife for more than seven years. She is a technician and he is an electrician, a job which is on New Zealand's skilled shortage list.
He has been waiting for months for a work visa, which Immigration New Zealand says is because of delays caused by COVID-19. But the man and his wife feel let down that the agency hasn't provided a solution and has left him stuck without an income for five months.
In the middle of the pandemic, he lost his job and was forced to find another. Thankfully he got another quickly and applied for a new work visa in July.
But after months of waiting, his employer was forced to hire someone else. So he applied for another job, which he got and immediately sent all the relevant information to Immigration New Zealand.
But when his visa finally came in late November, it had the wrong employer listed. He told Immigration NZ about the mistake but the couple is again stuck waiting with no clue how long the correction will take, hundreds of dollars out of pocket and facing the prospect of Christmas with only one income.
He says the process has left him feeling depressed and hopeless and has been treated like 'garbage' by Immigration NZ.
"They don't care. When I call them to get information they treat me like garbage. I've been here for more than seven years, I pay all my taxes, I've never had any problems… and they treat me like garbage."
"I feel that I have lost years of my life [dealing with this]. I feel depression, a lot of the times I want to kill myself… because they are making me lose everything."
The financial and emotional strain is taking a toll on his wife too who can't understand why it's taking so long.
"It wasn't supposed to take that long and we don't know what is going on. They just keep telling us we need to wait," she said.
"We don't want to take anybody's job, we don't want any help from the Government, we just want to work and get on with our lives."
To make matters worse the couple hasn't been given an explanation for the delay.
"If they gave us a reason and said, 'Listen we can't do this because of this' that would be okay, at least we would have something but when we call they treat us like we are bothering them."
She said they have called Immigration NZ multiple times to ask why it is taking so long and even asked their lawyer to follow up.
"Our lawyer called them and they treated him like trash. They just said, 'it's not my problem' like what, how come?"
The borders are currently closed to everyone except for New Zealand citizens and residents, leaving the couple even more perplexed about the delay.
"We've spent months waiting on this visa but nobody is coming into the country. The borders are closed, so… why [is it taking] this long?"
"I know Kiwis come first. We are immigrants - this is not our country and we totally respect that. We don't want money or anything, we just want some respect."
She said they are worried about being forced to pack up their lives if his visa is declined.
"It's really stressful and it takes a toll on us because we keep waiting and waiting, and we can't plan ahead."
"And if they say no...are they just going to give us a month to get our things and put seven years in a bag and get out of here?"
An Immigration New Zealand spokesperson said in the past three months, 90 percent of essential skills work visa applications have been processed within four months of submission.
"Work visa applications from individuals who are onshore are currently being allocated for assessment at around two weeks from the date the application was received," they said.
"Some applications do require more detailed assessments, which can add to processing times. These can include matters relating to the applicant, employer or labour market testing."
The spokesperson said applications that are more than three months old by the time of assessment may require updated information from the applicant.
They said Immigration NZ's offices were all closed during the COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown which meant the processing of applications was put on hold during that time.
"While the processing of visa applications resumed during alert level 2, the number of staff returning to offices was very limited, in line with health and safety requirements, which had a further impact on the number of applications being worked on."
"As a result, INZ prioritised processing of some visa categories, notably border exception requests and other visa applications relating to New Zealand’s COVID-19 response.
"INZ also established the new border exception category. The prioritising of these requests and subsequent visa applications has had a flow-on effect on some other visa categories, as we have had to transfer some work to other INZ offices."
The spokesperson said the INZ website is the best place for up-to-date information on processing times.
They said they can't comment on this specific case because the couple was unwilling to sign a privacy waiver.
"INZ is unable to comment on this specific case, including the allegations made against contact centre staff, without a privacy waiver, which was declined when requested."
Where to find help and support:
- Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
- Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
- Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
- What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
- Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
- Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email email@example.com or online chat
- Samaritans - 0800 726 666
- Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
- Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
- Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584