Pressure is mounting for the Government to reconsider the plea for lifelong visitor visas from Chinese parents who lost their only child in the Christchurch earthquake.

These parents - known as shidu parents because they lost the only child they were ever allowed to have - want lifelong visas so they can tend their children's graves each year.

Current immigration policy does not allow for long-lasting visitor visas, but calls are growing for the Government to "show some compassion" to these grieving families.

The catastrophic collapse of the CTV building in the February 2011 quake claimed 115 lives, including 23 Chinese students who were in a language school on the fourth floor.

Bo Tu lost his 22-year-old daughter, Hui Yun Tu, in the CTV building collapse. Photo by Mike Scott
Bo Tu lost his 22-year-old daughter, Hui Yun Tu, in the CTV building collapse. Photo by Mike Scott

Tim Elms, of North Canterbury, who lost his daughter in the CTV building, said reading about the plight of the shidu parents had affected him personally.

"If I was in a similar situation, I would want to visit my daughter whenever I liked," he said.

"I would find it impossibly hard not to be able to visit her grave."

Granting lifelong visitor visas to the shidu parents should be deemed "a humanitarian move" rather than a policy move, Elms said.

Zhi-Ping Lai lost his daughter in the CTV building. He said he hasn't gone back to visit her grave because the
Zhi-Ping Lai lost his daughter in the CTV building. He said he hasn't gone back to visit her grave because the "procedures of entering and leaving New Zealand are troublesome." Photo by Mike Scott

On Saturday, the Weekend Herald published an investigation into the Chinese families who were the first generation of parents affected by the one-child policy and who lost their only child in the quake, which struck six years ago on Wednesday.

The shidu parents who lost everything and are pleading for help
Chinese quake parents want lifelong visas to visit their children's graves
Editorial: Give parents of quake victims open invitation

Following the story, various readers vowed to personally contact Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse to express dismay over the fact that these parents were denied lifelong visas because of policy restrictions.

One reader from Ohope wrote in an email: "I have always been critical of the Chinese Government and its policies and treatment of its people. However after reading your article just now, it makes me embarrassed to be a Kiwi.


"I hope more can be done for these poor people."

Dave Bromwich, president of the China New Zealand Friendship Society, claimed the shidu parents raised a valid request that should be respected rather than ignored.

"This is a serious issue and it needs to be considered compassionately, outside of Western judgments," Bromwich said.

Chinese families had strong traditions of respecting the dead and annual tomb sweeping ceremonies which these parents were unable to take part in because of visa complications, he said.

"I strongly endorse the call for sympathy and consideration to be given."

Labour leader Andrew Little called for compassion for the parents.

"We must have it within us as policy makers to make policy that can be compassionate to people," Little said.

"As a parent, to lose your only child in a foreign country and bury them there and then face all sorts of hoops and hurdles to pay your respects to them isn't right."

The families were not requesting residency or citizenship, Little said, they were asking for a lifelong visitor visa to enter New Zealand for a few days each year - a request that deserved to be upheld, he said.

"I'd like to think it would be possible to draw up rules to allow these families to gain entry into New Zealand and pay their respects to the graves of their children."

These parents could not speak English and there were cultural barriers which made the normal visa application process daunting and unaffordable, Little said.

"Putting up hurdles and barriers is wrong. We ought to be able to make an exception here."

Under current immigration policy, Chinese citizens can be granted a three-year visitor visa allowing multiple entries into New Zealand.

But the shidu parents told the Herald last year that they did not understand how to apply for these visas, some did not own a computer and they couldn't afford the application fees. They pleaded for the New Zealand Government to provide them entry access under special bereavement circumstances.

Elms of North Canterbury said he visited his daughter Teresa's grave at least once a fortnight, stopping to drop off yellow flowers from his garden.

"It's a symbolic thing to sit there quietly and just talk to her," he said.

"It would be a major undertaking for some of these families to come all this way to do just that. Why not make it easier for them?"