Kaitaia couple Juliet and Eric Garcia finally have their resident visas, after 12 years of asking, and time and again achieving the eligibility criteria demanded of Mrs Garcia. What wonderful news it was to hear that they are now safe in New Zealand, and can plan for their future.

Mrs Garcia was so happy last week that she was even looking ahead to her dotage as a New Zealander, saying she might put her name down for a room at Switzer Residential Care, where she has worked since January 2008, in the expectation that she will now call Kaitaia home for the rest of her life.

Upon reflection, she decided that she might put her husband's name down first.

There was certainly a celebratory air in the Garcia home last week, with a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, family photos on the walls, and the sure knowledge that there was no longer any prospect of being told they would have to leave. The just and proper decision had finally been made, and a decade and more of sleepless nights was over.


But there was one last sour note. Just when Immigration NZ seemed to have exhausted all avenues for smothering itself in ignominy, it surprised no one really when it found a new way to display the disgraceful manner in which it seems to function (for want of a better word).

Mrs Garcia got the phone call she had been waiting more than a decade for on December 10, after her immigration consultant, Maricel Weischede (who had acted on her behalf throughout at no charge), had phoned Immigration to see if any progress had been made since then Associate Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi agreed to grant Mrs Garcia an exemption (although, if common sense had been applied, an exemption was hardly required) in late June.

Never mind. If Mr Faafoi gained some credit for displaying a rare flash of decency, let him have it.

There were some ifs and buts though, including that Mr Garcia, an electrical engineer by trade and fully-employed in New Zealand for more than a decade, needed to pass an English exam, at the not inconsiderable cost of $6500. And the couple had to satisfy authorities that they were of good character.

Irksome, perhaps, but neither requirement presented any sort of barrier, and Mrs Garcia's tears this time were shed in happiness rather than despair.

So the phone call was made to Wellington on December 10. As the Northland Age understands it, Ms Weischede was informed that resident visas had been granted on November 6, but no one in Immigration had told the Garcias that.

Perhaps a couple of months short of 12 years isn't enough for an applicant's name to become familiar to Immigration. Perhaps those who were responsible for imposing this abysmal process weren't aware of the significance of the decision to this couple. Perhaps they thought the news would make its way to Kaitaia by osmosis. Perhaps they had lost the Garcias' contact details. Perhaps they didn't give a hoot.

Whatever the explanation, if Maricel Weischede had not made what seems to have been a casual inquiry, another month, another Christmas, another goodness knows how long might have passed before the fact that resident visas had been granted was shared with the couple whose lives have been in limbo for so long.


There are those, and the writer is among them, who believe that Immigration needs a new Minister, but this outfit needs more than that. It needs a whole new culture, one that includes common courtesy, and a level of competence commensurate with the power to make decisions of huge importance to individuals, and only marginally less importance to their communities and country. If there is no one in Immigration NZ who understands that, then it could do with taking apart and putting back together again, with initiative and common courtesy high on the list of qualities required of those who want to work there.

It won't happen, of course. The day will come when Iain Lees Galloway loses the portfolio, by general election if his party continues to believe that he's the best it has to offer, but whoever inherits it, however well-intentioned they might be, they are going to struggle. Like most government activities, Immigration is mired in bureaucracy to such an extent that it is seriously dysfunctional.

We must have rules, of course, but we deserve better than this. The Garcias aren't complaining, because they can now see the light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is still there. Assuming they don't get caught dealing drugs or trafficking people, they will be given permanent visas in two years' time. It isn't clear whether that's two years from when resident visas were granted or when they were told resident visas had been granted, but it's only a month's difference.

Then, three years after that, again depending upon their ability to behave themselves, they will be eligible to apply for citizenship. Some time in 2025 they will hopefully go to Te Ahu, where they will hold a Bible and swear the oath of allegiance, and they will be New Zealanders. All in just 17 short years!

One hopes that those who have supported them will still be here to celebrate that long-awaited occasion. John Carter won't be the Mayor, so he won't be presiding at Te Ahu, and the Northland Age will be under new editorial management. Jackie Simkins, who, as Mrs Garcia's employer since January 2008, fought tooth and nail for her, has retired as general manager at Switzer, but will undoubtedly be there. Matt King too, who should still be the MP for Northland, and maybe his Parliamentary community engagement and communications advisor Deirdre Healy, who he says deserves much of the credit.

So, hopefully, will some of those in the wider community who have supported the Garcias. Who have celebrated the occasional encouraging news in years gone by, who have commiserated when the situation looked bleak, and who have deplored the processes followed by a government department where common sense has succumbed to rules and regulations whose purpose seems to be to create work for civil servants, enabling them to stifle the ambitions of people who can make a real contribution to their communities and this country, while rolling out the welcome mat for some who don't.

Matt King will tell you that he spends much of his time fighting for people who want to live and work in the Far North, and are already contributing, but are not up to Immigration's seemingly random standards. Bay of Islands couple Peter and Lina Jia, and their 10-year-old daughter Cici, are in the same boat that the Garcias have been in for so long, having been warned that if they don't leave voluntarily they will be in jeopardy of arrest and deportation, after years of battling the system.

Their community is going into bat for them, but success is by no means guaranteed. Hopefully they will win. And if they do, hopefully someone in Immigration will tell them. Eventually. When someone asks.