After a two-week break, most kids would have been dreading going back to school this week.

But for Fiji-born teenagers Neha and Nelisha Singh, returning to class would be a dream come true.

Neha, 16, from Kelston Girls' College, and Nelisha, 13, of Bruce McLaren Intermediate School in Henderson, have been barred from school since June 10, when their mother's work permit ran out.

Rehana Nazrin Singh, 38, a residential care worker, is appealing against the Immigration New Zealand decision not to renew it.

While the appeal is pending, she has been granted a visitor's permit.

But her daughters have not been issued with student permits, so cannot go to school.

Neha, who has dreams of being a nurse, said it had been "boring and worrying" staying at home.

"I do nothing at home, and feel like I'm not worth anything.

I really miss my friends and worry all the time about all the studies I am missing because this is an important school year."

Immigration NZ was yesterday unable to say how many children were in the same position.

But Kelston Girls' College said it had two other cases, involving students from the Philippines and Fiji.

An Auckland immigration adviser, Tika Ram, said he had three clients who were appealing against work permit decisions that also affected school-age children.

Kelston Girls' principal Linda Fox said immigration law prevented schools from enrolling foreigners who did not have students' permits.

"Schools are being put in an awkward situation by the immigration department and the Government. While our first desire is to teach students, the school faces big fines - which we cannot afford - if immigration officials find there are students being enrolled illegally," Ms Fox said.

"It is totally unfair that the future of these students is being destroyed, and educational opportunities stopped, by some of our immigration rules."

Ms Fox said she had appealed to Immigration to let students continue their studies "on humanitarian grounds", but had not yet been advised of its decision.

She said Neha is doing NCEA Level 1 this year, without which she could not progress to Year 12 (form 6) if she returned to Fiji and would have to repeat a whole academic year.

Mr Ram, who is Mrs Singh's immigration adviser, predicted Immigration NZ would decline many more work permit applications in the recession as more New Zealanders became available to fill job vacancies.

He warned that even more children could be kept from school because of current policy.

From Monday, changes to immigration policy will allow children of migrant workers who lose their jobs within a 90-day trial period to qualify as domestic students while their parents remain legally in New Zealand.

But this does not apply to those who have been working longer than the three months.

Acting Human Rights Chief Commissioner Judy McGregor said it was "entirely unacceptable" that children in New Zealand were being denied education.

"The right to education for children is a core human right here and internationally."

Last month, TV One reported that an estimated 1100 Pacific Island children could not attend school because their parents were overstayers.

Immigration Minister Jonathan Coleman said an immigration bill to be introduced this year would allow children of overstayers to go to school, but he did not say if it would include children whose parents' immigration status was uncertain.