Nilani Suhinthan couldn’t conjure the words to explain to her daughter Bumikka why she wasn’t granted a visa to live in New Zealand, but the rest of her family were.
“Bumikka has Down syndrome, she doesn’t understand. I couldn’t explain to her. She’s just been asking ‘where my mummy is?'” Nilani says.
“My younger girl broke into tears, she was very disappointed.”
The Irish mother of three has been living and working in Auckland since September 6, after being recruited as a IT consultant for a multinational US tech company.
The plan was to relocate her entire family here from Dublin, including her husband, Nagarajah, her eldest daughter Tanya, 19, her youngest daughter Saumia, 14, and Bumikka, 15.
Up until November 2 that plan was on track, after Nilani’s husband – a computer engineer with decades of experience – was granted a New Zealand work visa, and her youngest daughter a student visa.
Her eldest daughter Tanya intended to continue studying medicine in Bulgaria, but eventually settle in New Zealand.
Then the news arrived on November 7 that Immigration New Zealand (INZ) had declined Bumikka’s student visa because she did not have an “acceptable standard of health”.
INZ’s medical waiver assessment for Bumikka’s stated because she had Down syndrome she was “likely to impose significant costs on New Zealand’s special education services”.
Specifically, the issue was that Bumikka would require the Ongoing Resourcing Scheme (ORS) special-ed service to undertake schooling in New Zealand.
Nilani had informed INZ that she was more than willing to personally pay the $7800 per annum it would cost to enrol Bumikka in ORS, but was told it was a “finite resource” that could not be spared on an international citizen.
“If they had warned me that I would not get the visa for Bumikka I would not have made the move, spent this much money, wasted my time,” Nilani said.
“I wasn’t expecting a penny for my daughter. I work hard and I’m willing to contribute but I’ve been told to go away.”
Bumikka had also been accepted into a place at Auckland’s Lynfield College.
INZ manager of visa services Michael Carley said while they “sympathise” with the Suhinthan’s situation, they dispute the parents were not warned of this potential outcome.
Carley said in July this year, INZ advised Bumikka’s visa may be declined on health grounds.
The INZ decision has shattered the Suhinthan’s plans to permanently immigrate to New Zealand, and cost them NZ$26,000 in travel and immigration fees.
The rest of the family were granted New Zealand visas until 2021, and the intention was for them to apply for permanent residence after two years living here.
The Suhinthan’s now find their family separated across the globe, with their father looking after the children in Dublin.
“He didn’t have any other choice, because five people applied for the visa, only four got it, and Bumikka’s the most dependant child,” Nilani said.
“So we couldn’t just abandon her and move the other children. Also, the other siblings, they are very close with her.”
It’s not the first time Immigration New Zealand has garnered publicity for declining visa applications on the basis of disability.
In 2016, paralysed Brazilian film-maker, Juliana Carvalho, had her New Zealand residency application declined for not having an “acceptable standard of health”. She was sent back to her homeland after four years in New Zealand.
To add to the Suhinthan’s disappointment, the entire family will be spending Christmas in Malaysia together after a further attempt to get Bumikka a short visitor visa into New Zealand was also declined.
“It hurts me so much because I prepared so much for Christmas, and now I have to pack the presents in the suitcase and fly,” Nilani says.
“I couldn’t even be trusted for two weeks.”
On November 30, Nilani appealed to Associate Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi to reconsider Bumikka’s student visa application and was informed a decision would be made by early March 2019.
Until then the Suhinthans are in limbo.
“I haven’t made any decision yet, because I’m very upset. The way I have been treated I’ve lost my confidence,” Nilani says.
“Originally I wanted to come here, settle in, and I have a lot to offer, and my husband works as a big data developer, it’s a rare skill. My eldest daughter is studying to be a doctor, so she would contribute something to the community as well.
“I want to let people know that a Down syndrome child can be discriminated on the ground of their disability.
“So I’m really disappointed, and any mum who wants to move to New Zealand has to rethink before they start the move. Otherwise they will end up like myself, in a real mess.”
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