Wife's lie sees family off to India

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Man to be deported after wife lies to Winz in bid to get bigger benefit.

Gaurav Sharma and Tepou Heremaia with their son. Photo / Doug Sherring
Gaurav Sharma and Tepou Heremaia with their son. Photo / Doug Sherring

A young mother facing a new life in India has spoken of her regret after telling Work and Income she had split from her husband so she could get a bigger benefit.

Now the family faces an uncertain future as her husband is ordered out of the country.

Tepou Heremaia, a New Zealander of Cook Island descent, married Indian national Gaurav Sharma two years ago. The couple had imagined a bright future here together, but fell on hard times when Heremaia, 22, became pregnant.

Too exhausted to hold down her job as a barista, she was forced on to a $150-a-week benefit. With the prospect of earning twice as much as a "single mother", Heremaia says she lied to Winz out of desperation.

"It didn't feel good at all. I had no choice," she says. "It was really hard, trying to keep a straight face. I love my husband more than anything."

Heremaia says she did it so she could provide for their son, now 7 months old.

At the time, Sharma, now 23, was unable to earn money - his visa had been declined because he had not submitted documentation to prove he was in a relationship with Heremaia. The lie was caught when the couple sought ministerial intervention for his visa application.

Immigration's operational support manager for visa service Michael Carley says Winz shares information with his team and Sharma's claim of being in a relationship with Heremaia was at odds with her statement that her husband was an illegal immigrant who had returned to India.

Heremaia and Sharma say they deeply regret what they did: "It's not worth lying for a few dollars. I wrote Immigration a letter telling them how I lied. I apologised and I gave them a reason why I had to do it," Heremaia says.

Despite submitting a marriage certificate and their son's birth certificate, Immigration NZ have advised Sharma to leave as soon as possible to avoid deportation.

The family are now preparing to move to India, where they will live with Sharma's parents, a future Heremaia is struggling to come to grips with.

"It will be hard for us to adapt to life in India. We don't have enough money to support ourselves over there."

Ministry of Social Development deputy chief executive Iona Holsted says Winz has data-matching agreements with six other Government agencies, including police and immigration.

"The ministry is committed to effective data matching and information sharing between Government departments to protect the integrity of the benefit system."

She says Heremaia will not be prosecuted."There is no evidence of benefit fraud."

Policy review underway

Immigration Minister Nathan Guy has announced a review of how partners of New Zealand citizens and residents are treated.

It follows a Taranaki family having their visas revoked after the father assaulted the mother and one of the sons called police. The visas of the entire family were "dependent" on the father.

Guy said the family could take their case to the independent Immigration and Protection Tribunal pending the policy review.

"This is a single, 'one-stop-shop' tribunal to consider all grounds for appeal in one place. It takes into account humanitarian factors in its decisions," he said.

- Herald on Sunday

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