After nearly two decades an Italian restaurateur is getting the chance to call himself a New Zealand citizen.
Luigi Barattieri, the owner of three Tauranga restaurants, will become a Kiwi in an official citizenship ceremony on Thursday. He is among a growing number of migrants who have chosen to call Tauranga home.
"I already feel at home here but that will make it official."
The colourful and charismatic Mr Barattieri left his native Milan in 1995.
Mr Barattieri, who runs Comida, Lo Spuntino and Volare in Tauranga's Strand area, first moved to the Cook Islands to open an icecream parlour. However, he left a year later after his business partner died.
He decided to open a restaurant in New Zealand and moved to Tauranga after learning it was the fastest growing city in the country.
Mr Barattieri said he was welcomed with open arms. However, that local support was tested when the Immigration Department said he had to leave the country.
"My customers signed a petition, it went to the mayor, local MPs got involved. It was wonderful. It didn't get me preferential treatment but it made them review the case and showed them I was employing eight people and adding value to the town.
"That was the only reason I wanted to stay, it was the support of the locals. Some of those people are still my customers 16 years later.