'Christmas miracle': Family's Christmas Day deportation halted, visa issued at the last minute

Kris Faafoi.
Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: Newshub.

A Filipino man who used a false address to claim food vouchers during last year's lockdown won't be deported after securing a last-minute work visa. 

Jeffrey Santos, his eight-year-old son and wife Marjorie were preparing to spend Christmas Day on a flight back to the Philippines, a year after he pleaded guilty to using a document for pecuniary advantage.

But on Christmas Eve they found out they would be allowed to stay after Santos was given a 12-month work visa. 

"This was off the back of collective campaigning and pressure," Green MP Ricardo Menéndez March told Newshub, after speaking with the family.

"I'm elated and this feels like a Christmas miracle, almost. But at the same time I'm also disappointed it took public pressure and this really distressing situation to be taken to the court of public opinion for the minister to change his mind. 

"I'm just hoping that Jeffrey Santos and his family have the Christmas they deserve."

Santos had earlier called it a crime of "desperation", being ineligible for the wage subsidy because of his immigration status. Initial appeals were rejected.

"I couldn't pay rent for two weeks, I had to do something," Santos told Stuff earlier this week. " I didn't receive a wage subsidy and that’s why I needed to do something for my family. I wish I hadn't done this, but it is too late."

He said he's been to church every week since asking for forgiveness, but Immigration declined his appeals because he didn't have exceptional circumstances. He works full-time on building sites, and his wife is a nurse. 

Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP) said the deportation was "extremely over the top", considering his income was halved during the alert level 4 restrictions. 

“He did what he needed to do in order to survive. Feeding your family shouldn’t be a crime and he’s done nothing wrong," said coordinator Brooke Pao Stanley. 

"They've already set up a life for themselves in Aotearoa and they deserve to stay. The Philippines has one of the strictest military lockdowns in the world, it’s hard to find work there and having to relocate on Christmas Day is an extra kick in the face."

AAAP said Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi should have intervened earleir to stop the family's deportation. A spokesperson for Faafoi simply said the matter "is being or has been sorted", and confirmed Faafoi would not be commenting.

Menéndez March said a last-minute appeal on Thursday was accepted, but it should have been dealt with earlier. Faafoi earlier said as Associate Minister Phil Twyford had already rejected the appeal, he wouldn't be looking into it again. 

"The Associate Minister can do that, right? this is the whole thing. Ministers intervene all the time around these kinds of issues and in fact, they've intervened for what you would consider far more serious incidents where someone may have broken a law… 

"Somebody was struggling through the COVID-19 lockdown and didn't have adequate income support, and took desperate measures to feed his family while harming no one." 

Santos told Stuff he intends to come back when he legally can in about five years' time, his current boss saying a job will be waiting for him. 

"I will come back as a new Jeffrey, not a silly Jeffrey. It is a big lesson to learn. Honesty is the best policy."