Immigration NZ visa blunder leaves South African man jobless for weeks, forced to sell belongings to provide for family

A South African man was forced to sell his possessions to provide for his family after an Immigration New Zealand (INZ) error delayed him starting his new job.

Chris Botha has been in the country for nearly three years on an essential skills work visa, and earlier in 2021 was offered a new job as a design engineer for a fire protection company in Dunedin.

But the career move was fraught with frustration after INZ gave Botha incorrect information that resulted in him being jobless for weeks, with the financial pressure becoming so immense he was forced to sell his belongings just to make ends meet.

Botha received an apology from INZ but says he should have been offered compensation for the thousands of dollars in wages he missed out on - or at the very least had his application fee waived.

An INZ spokesperson apologised for the "undue stress" placed on Botha and says staff have been spoken to about the importance of "providing clear and accurate information".

'We started selling stuff to get by'

When Botha was approached with a "very decent job offer" from a company in the fire protection industry in April, he immediately requested a variation of conditions (VOC) on his visa that would allow him to change employer.

He asked INZ about the correct procedure to file an application on April 29, and an Immigration Contact Centre (ICC) worker advised him he'd need to provide his start date for the new role and proof of his resignation from his previous job.

His new employer wanted him to start on May 26 and he lodged his application on May 12 - two weeks prior.

Botha had calculated he and his family could sustain themselves for a week should his VOC application stall and he was unable to start his new job immediately after finishing his old one.

Chris Botha with his children (left) and his wife (right)
Chris Botha said he missed out on about $4000 in lost wages. Photo credit: Supplied

However Botha's start date came and went with no correspondence from INZ - and without his VOC being accepted, he was unable to begin working at his new company.

"With the relevant information that I'd got as to expected approval time for the new visa, we'd allowed certain timeframes with the money that we had to get us through," he told Newshub.

"But I spoke to INZ and they still hadn't assigned a case officer to my application - they said it's in the queue and I had to wait.

"I phoned them a couple of days later, still the same thing. I phoned them a third time and they said they'd sent it to the Christchurch branch to assign it to a case officer."

Days later, however, Botha discovered to his dismay that despite his application being sent down to Christchurch, it still hadn't been assigned to anyone.

By this time, money was running short and the worry was starting to take a big mental toll.

As well as the lost wages, Botha had to pay $190 for the VOC application and about $2000 to get his family's visas renewed.

"We also applied for a work to residence visa six months prior, and to start the application process you need to pay $650 - just to get told they've changed the conditions and you no longer qualify due to your salary not meeting the minimum threshold," he said.

He said his time without pay was "very, very stressful".

"We fell behind on rent payments, car payments, after-school care payments and other day-to-day living costs," he explained.

"We initially planned  to have enough money to cover us for a short time with my leave pay from previous employer, and were also planning to do another work to residence application with that  money.

"Obviously with what happened that flew out the door and we had to use that money to cover other debt." 

Botha said they were forced to sell their belongings just to get by, including TVs, gaming consoles and furniture.

During a phone call days later, he learned the initial information he'd received - that he needed to provide a resignation letter, and that his application would be processed in time for his new start date - was incorrect.

An ICC staffer advised him to lodge a complaint, which he did on May 31, and escalate his visa application so it would be looked at within two days.

But it was several days later - on June 14, exactly three weeks after his scheduled start date - that he finally got a phone call from INZ advising him that his visa VOC had been approved.

Botha says he lost out on $4000 for the time he was unable to work.

Immigration NZ sorry for 'incorrect information'

Botha is frustrated by INZ and says it could have handled it a lot better".

He spoke to several staff during the process, and says they all seemed to have a different understanding of his situation.

"I really think that they need to be more consistent when giving people advice. One would think that with the advice or guidance they provide that it would be similar for the respective inquiry."

On June 28, two weeks after Botha's VOC application was approved, he received a response to the complaint he'd lodged with INZ four weeks prior from ICC manager Cynthia Pereira.

"First of all, I'd like to sincerely apologise for the incorrect information provided to you in your most recent interaction with the ICC. After reviewing the call you have made… I can confirm the information given was not 100 percent clear," she wrote. 

"ICC endeavours to maintain a high standard in the service we provide and it is clear that, in this case, our service did not meet the expectations we have set. Accordingly, I have taken steps to ensure the individual you spoke with is aware of the impact this has caused, to minimise any repeat occurrences."

Botha says he should have been offered compensation for the thousands of dollars in wages he missed out on.
Botha says he should have been offered compensation for the thousands of dollars in wages he missed out on. Photo credit: Getty Images

Botha responded to the apology telling INZ what he and his family had been going through. But after several weeks he hadn't heard anything back.

While Botha appreciated the apology, he believes INZ should have gone further than just saying sorry.

"They knew the situation, they could have somehow compensated us for more of the stuff that we had to go through and all the trouble that we had," he said.

"Surely with a mistake like this there should be some form of compensation. How many other people go through the same process with the same result? I personally think that INZ should take responsibility and be held accountable for things like this.

"Even a refund [on the $190 VOC application fee] would have been a good gesture. I really hope that this does not happen to other families in the future."

In a statement, INZ's general manager of border and visa operations Nicola Hogg said she sincerely apologises to Botha for the "undue stress this has caused both him and his family".

"INZ will contact Mr Botha directly regarding his complaint, to discuss the issues he has raised," she told Newshub.

"INZ aims to process applications as quickly as possible, to ensure we can provide applicants with certainty about their ability to stay in New Zealand.

"INZ endeavours to provide accurate information to individuals who phone our ICC, and visit our website. We are reviewing our website to ensure all of the information is up to date and correct, and have reiterated to staff at the ICC the importance of providing clear and accurate information."