The Ukrainian family running a popular Auckland restaurant face a potentially lengthy wait on getting an answer from Associate Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi on whether they can stay in the country permanently.

With just four months left on their visa, the Shchetkova family who first came to New Zealand in 2013 on an entrepreneur visa are living day by day.

"This is the [reason] I can't sleep, this is the thing which worries me a lot. I can't stop thinking about it," Nataliya Shchetkova says from her St Heliers restaurant La Vista. "It's a hard time right now as [we feel] we're like suspended.

"Our routine work helps us to keep moving."


Shchetkova, her husband Alex and their three children made the move from Ukraine to open a fine dining restaurant. Just a few moths later their twins Alexander and Victoriya were born.

Originally, they planned to buy and revamp a French fine dining restaurant for $500,000 but instead bought a smaller 46-seat Spanish restaurant for $700,000.

The family renewed their entrepreneur visa twice - the maximum number of times it can be renewed - and applied for residency but it was declined because Immigration NZ says their business does not add "significant value" to the country.

The decision was appealed, but that was also declined.

La Vista had a turnover of $1.6 million in the last financial year and employs 26 staff - 17 are on full time contracts.

Shchetkova's five-year-old twins Alexander and Victoriya have recently started school but the family's happiness has been dimmed by the uncertainty of their future. They are living in a state of limbo unsure if they will have to sell the business and pack up and leave when their visa expires on July 1.

Shchetkova says she has had no communication from Immigration since November and is now waiting to hear back from Associate Immigration Minister Faafoi to see if he can grant them residency by special consideration.

Their letter was submitted to the Minister's office on February 9. She is yet to hear back.


"Our family life is in his hands."

The family has received "overwhelming" support from the public in the last month and around 500 people attend a rally in St Heliers two weekends ago, organised by Act Party leader David Seymour.

Around 700 people signed a physical petition to allow the family to stay in New Zealand and the online petition to take the issue to Parliament received 14,600 signatures.

Nataliya Shchetkova, right, with her husband Alex Derecha, daughter Daria and 5-year-old twins Alexander and Victoriya, who were born in New Zealand. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Nataliya Shchetkova, right, with her husband Alex Derecha, daughter Daria and 5-year-old twins Alexander and Victoriya, who were born in New Zealand. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The paper petition was submitted with the family's letter seeking special consideration.

But Shchetkova is unsure if she and her family will be granted residency.

"I'm scared to say but with this level of support from the people around, it gives me hope that it could really happen.

"People want us here and we are decent, good people and we contribute to the community. We really want to keep doing it for our whole life. We want to call New Zealand our home. We want to find our home here."

Act Party leader David Seymour says it is astonishing that Immigration NZ believes the business is not profitable enough for the family to stay in New Zealand.

"The are exactly the type of immigrant that New Zealand says it wants. They've built a business, they've employed people, given to charity and are loved within their community and their kids are doing well at school.

"Now, due to a technical botch-up, they face being forced to leave the country, including two of their children who were born in New Zealand, of all places to be sent back to Ukraine which is in a state of proxy war," he says.

Act Party leader David Seymour. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today
Act Party leader David Seymour. Photo / Hawke's Bay Today

Seymour says there were lots of factors in the family's favour such as the technical error in the case, the place they are to return to, the New Zealand-born children, the fact they could lose their business.

"Close to everybody in St Heliers thinks they should stay, it's just a bureaucracy in Wellington says they should go," he says.

Seymour says immigration rules don't take into account the realities of running a business.

"It's easy to sit in an office at Immigration NZ and say 'Oh, they're not making enough amount of profit' but the reality is use can have a highly successful business that doesn't turn a profit for years - look at Xero, they are supposedly one of the most successful businesses in New Zealand and they still haven't made a profit."

Section 61 of the Immigration Act allows for a Minister to give a special direction and over-ride any other immigration decisions made.

But Seymour says the family could face a potentially lengthy wait.

"A Minister within their office is kind of like a god. They could walk in and say 'I want this sorted right now' and all the staff would run around and do it. On the other hand, Ministers also have a very big workload," he says.

"In theory, they could hear back on the 30th June."